Low wind chills pose little threat to winter runners

With the correct clothing, outdoor exercise is possible in any temperature.

Four weeks into the new year and already resolutions may be on the verge of busting, with cold weather posing a threat to those striving for exercise and weight-loss. However, runners and researchers at the University say cold weather is a poor excuse not to exercise.

Stacy Ingraham, a lecturer in the University’s school of kinesiology and former track and cross-country coach, said there is no evidence of a temperature too cold to exercise in.

“It’s an easy excuse not to exercise,” Ingraham said.

The biggest risk winter runners face is frostbite, but wearing the correct type and number of garments can prevent it, Ingraham said.

She claimed the first layer of clothing should move moisture from the skin side of the material to the outside of the material. Ingraham said different brands have varying names for this material, such as COOLMAX or Therma-Tec.

If a person wears cotton, she said, it becomes wet against the skin and then is cooled by outdoor air, resulting in the runner becoming cold.

Ingraham said a common mistake runners make is wearing too much clothing, since when people overdress, the sweat has no place to go.

Don Harris, a second-year medical student and member of the University Running Club, said he agrees the main mistake winter runners make is not dressing properly for the conditions.

Harris said the University Running Club’s schedule does not change when the weather gets cold, although the number of participants decreases.

“I’ve never used cold weather as an excuse not to go running,” he said.

Both Harris and Ingraham said frostbite is more prevalent than hypothermia. Harris said paying attention to the wind chill is important because that’s what will give you frostbite.

Harris said he dealt with frostbite twice because he was cross-country skiing without covering his ears.

Ingraham says extremity exposure should be dealt with cautiously. Wearing a cap is essential, as a study released by the American Council on Exercise showed that heat loss from the head alone makes up about 50 percent of the body’s total heat loss.

Other factors – such as icy surface areas and preoccupied drivers – pose more of a threat to winter runners than temperature, Ingraham said.

“In winter conditions, drivers are less tolerant having to juggle around runners,” Ingraham said. She added that shorter strides decrease your chances of falling.

The bottom line: Find another excuse not to exercise.

For those who aren’t willing to brave the cold, the Mayo Clinic Web site offers some suggestions such as sledding, walking at the mall or swimming indoors.