Thursday, January 24, 2008

To Cold to Exercise

Hi everyone! This is one of the best articles I have ever read about exercise and the cold! I sure have always run in the rain, sleet or snow and have found it very hard to get anyone to run with me in the extreme cold!!! Read this article below and I would love to know your thoughts. Do you over dress when you go out in the cold???
Has anyone else been blasted with the stomach flu? 5 full days for me of being so sick I did not want to move..I have made the turn for the better,,,so thankful.

Too Cold to Exercise?

Try Another Excuse Published: January 17, 2008 NY Times

JULIA HENSLEY, a 41-year-old artist, got a taste of bitter cold a decade ago when she spent a winter living on a glacier near Seward, Alaska. Typical winter temperatures were 10 to 15 degrees below.

“The first time it got really cold, I was scared of it,” Ms. Hensley said. “My instinct was to get a stack of books and curl up beside the wood stove.” But a boyfriend persuaded her to go out anyway, to cross-country ski or snowshoe for hours in deep snow.

He taught her, she said, that as long as she kept moving, she would be fine. It was a conclusion — that extreme cold can be safe for exercisers — that runs contrary to conventional wisdom. But in fact, said John W. Castellani, an exercise physiologist at the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, it turns out that even though cold can be frightening, more people are injured exercising in the heat than exercising in the cold.

Dr. Castellani was lead author of a 2006 position paper from the American College of Sports Medicine on exercising in the cold. “The big question was, ‘Is it ever too cold?’” Dr. Castellani said. “The answer is no. People go to the poles, people are out there when it’s minus-50 degrees, people do incredible things, and safely.

There really isn’t a point where you can tell people it is not safe anymore.” Dr. Timothy Noakes, an exercise physiologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa who was a reviewer of that position paper, even supervised a swimmer, Lewis Gordon Pugh, who swam 1 km or (.62 miles) in 19 minutes at the North Pole last July, in water that was between 29 and 32 degrees. The problem with exercising in the cold, exercise physiologists say, is that people may be hobbled by myths that lead them to overdress or to stop moving, risky things to do.

Some worry that cold air will injure their lungs or elicit asthma symptoms. Or they are convinced that they are more susceptible to injury when it is cold and that they have to move more slowly — forget about sprinting or running at a fast clip. But lungs are not damaged by cold, said Kenneth W. Rundell, the director of respiratory research and the human physiology laboratory at Marywood University in Scranton, Pa. No matter how cold the air is, by the time it reaches your lungs, it is body temperature, he explained.

Some people complain that they get exercise-induced asthma from the cold. But that sort of irritation of the respiratory tract is caused by dryness, not cold, Dr. Rundell said. “Cold air just happens not to hold much water and is quite dry,” he said. You’d have the same effect exercising in air that was equally dry but warm. Dr. Rundell and Tina Evans, a Ph.D. candidate, showed this a few years ago in a study designed to dispel what Dr. Rundell called the myth that cold air can induce asthma. Volunteers with exercise-induced asthma, whose airways tended to narrow after exercise in the cold, breathed cold air or room temperature air that was equally dry. Their airways narrowed in response to the dryness of the air, not its temperature, Dr. Rundell said. People with this problem should see a respiratory specialist and take medication when they exercise in dry air, Dr. Rundell said. And, he added, “you might want to use a balaclava,” so your exhaled breath can moisten the air you breathe.

Another myth is that you have to acclimatize to cold, just as you do to heat. It’s true that peoples’ bodies adapt to hot weather and that adaptation makes people feel better when they exercise in the heat. It also improves performance. With heat adaptation, you sweat more profusely, your sweat is less salty and your blood volume increases. But exercise physiologists find only modest adaptation to cold.

The body’s main responses to cold — constricting blood vessels near the skin, shunting blood to the body’s core and shivering do not improve if you spend more time in the cold. Nor are the physically fit any better at adaptation than the sedentary. “Right now, we’re not sure if there is any degree of habituation,” said Robert Kenefick, a research physiologist at the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. Of course there are hazards like frostbite and hypothermia , which occurs when the body’s core temperature drops too low. Dr. Noakes said that during Mr. Pugh’s North Pole swim, hypothermia was a real concern.

Hypothermia can happen suddenly in icy water, with the swimmer’s core temperature plummeting, and the fear was that Mr. Pugh might pass out and sink before he could be rescued. Mr. Pugh, an experienced cold-water swimmer, was wearing a device to monitor his temperature, but nonetheless, Dr. Noakes was “petrified,” he said. The biggest risk of hypothermia comes with a combination of wet and cold. That is because water transfers heat from the body 70 times more efficiently than air. Hypothermia begins to set in when the body’s core temperature falls to 95 degrees. That elicits shivering and a rise in blood pressure . But if your temperature drops to 85, you lose consciousness, and if it goes much lower, you can die.

The trick to avoiding hypothermia is to keep moving, Dr. Noakes said. “As long as you keep moving you are not going to die because you generate so much heat.” One mistake winter exercisers make is wearing too much clothing. You don’t want to sweat profusely because you overdressed. “You should feel cool before you start exercising,” Dr. Castellani said. “You should not feel comfortable.” That means, Dr. Noakes said, that even in temperatures as low as 10 to minus-20 degrees, a runner probably needs to wear no more than a track suit, mittens or gloves and a hat.

The other major concern, frostbite, can come on fast, as my running partner Jennifer Davis, 37, discovered about a decade ago. It starts when the skin’s temperature drops to 82 degrees and you feel an area of skin is becoming really cold. At a skin temperature of 68 degrees, the skin starts to hurt. It may tingle or burn or ache or you may feel a sharp pain. When the skin’s temperature falls to 50 degrees, it feels numb. And when the skin’s temperature reaches 27 degrees, the skin freezes. The result is frostbite. Ms. Davis got frostbite when she went out for a run early in the morning on a cold, windy day with temperatures in the teens. She ran for about an hour wearing a baseball cap. Her ears hurt for a while, then the pain went away. She took off a glove to touch her ears so she could find out just how cold they were. To her shock, one of her ears cracked.

“It was sort of like semi-frozen meat,” she recalled. When she got home, she was horrified by her red and swollen ear. An ear, nose and throat specialist diagnosed frostbite and told her that her ear would be sensitive to the cold for the rest of her life. He was wrong, though. The ear was red and stuck out for weeks, but it healed. Now, Ms. Davis said, she can’t even remember whether it was her right or left ear. But ever since, she has worn a hat that covers her ears when she runs in the cold.

As for Ms. Hensley, the woman who lived in Alaska one winter, she now lives in Seattle and rides her bike in the winter rain, charging up hills. “I just remember the lesson I learned that winter,” she said. “You don’t have to stand inside and say, ‘Oh, it’s a yucky day.’ You can go out in anything. You just have to do it.”


Anonymous said...

I would like to know what kind of clothing you wear when running in extreme cold. I tend to over dress and then sweat to much, getting to cold is a problem.
Winter running is my favorite time of the year to run but when it is colder than 10 it is hard to get out the door.
Cold in Vermont

Bob - said...

awww Coach sorry to hear about the stomach flu, glad ur getting better !!...

My thoughts on running in the cold is to move to FL for the winter :-)

Anonymous said...

Exercising in the cold has made me think that our bodies have the capacity to maintain a comfortable temperature even when it is very cold. I've wondered if yogis who sit outside naked in the winter have learned to control that physical capability; turn on the heaters so to speak, even when they are still?

Claire, I think the most important thing is to stay dry. Breathable layers seem to work best for me. I almost never wear an outerlayer that keeps moisture in.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts, Thank God I live in the south.

You guys are amazing or insane!

Lisa Smith-Batchen said...

To tell you the truth I always wear way to many clothes in the cold and this is why I get so cold..I am trying hard to get a company to come up with a job bra that does not get soaked and stay wet. Once the chest is cold it seems that we never warm up!
I have asthma and it is much worse in the winter months..but now I run with a mask over my face to warm up the air and after 10 minutes I seem to be just fine as long as I keep up with the medication...anyone else have asthma?


Olga said...

Lisa, aren't you in AZ? I was pointed to this article when complained about our sub25F:) Recently 9speaking of bra) somebody recommended to put hand warmers inside bra. My butt gets most frozen in the wind, chest is usually ok. And my hands and face, but it's not cold enough to wear face mask. OK, after reading about Meghan in WY and Kendra in MT I think I should shut up. Actually, the hardest part IS to get out the door and make the first step. In 5 min life is good:)

Lisa Smith-Batchen said...

I grew up in the cold:)
I am in the warm right now but can tell you I miss the cold!!! I love to snowshoe, skate ski and cc ski.
My butt seems to get cold at well but I have some amazing clothing now that keeps me warm..I will get the names of the clothes and let you know.
I use liners in my gloves and I wear the goretx shoes with liners and socks and my feet are just fine!

Let's get on the joy bra idea!

If anyone is to cold..come on down and see us:)

Michele Jensen said...

The hardest part for me to overcome is my extremeties, my core always seems to be fine as long as i keep moving. My hands ALWAYS get cold - but i've bought the Costco size box of handwarmers and use a pair almost every day i run in the winter! For the feet, I find that smartwool socks work well - you can get the thicker ones and they don't seem to hold the wet moisture (if you're running in snow) as much as some as the others. I also love my yacktracks - I run in the dark a lot and they do great on those icy and snow patches. Winter running is some of the most peaceful running you can do, since it's usually just me, my dog and the snow falling or on the ground. I'll take it over humidity any day...

Anonymous said...

I've found that wearing bicycling tops and accessories really helps.

The shirts have pockets on the back so you can stuff clothes in them as you peel off the layers.

The shirts also have long zippers so you can let in a lot of air if you start overheating.

Cycling vests are wind resistant in the front and mesh in the back to help solve the windchill problem when running into the wind and the overheating issue when getting a tailwind.

Also, I use cycling arm warmers to give a little extra warmth at the beginning of the run.

I can easily stuff a vest, arm warmers, earband and liner gloves into the pockets on the backside of the cycling shirt.

Anonymous said...

ok, now I know first hand that Lisa does not like to run in the cold nor does she like to be cold:) hee hee.
Maybe all these year's it is just because you always have to many clothes on, they all get wet and when we have had to stop and rest you freeze. For me, I don't get cold because I have 50 pounds of fat to keep me warm and your skinny butt is always's cold.
Give ya some of my fat to keep you warm next time we go can go shoe together.
Love ya and miss ya

Anonymous said...

Does anyone put vaseline or anything like that on there face? I have heard this helps keep your face from being so cold. My problem is that my face is so cold that it is hard to stay out and keep going. Living in Chicago area has made it very difficult to run outside or maybe I am just a whimp.

Waiting for warm


Dane said...

Since I more or less expressed personal opinions recently to a bunch of neophyte runners about running in the cold, I am so glad to see I did not lead them astray!

Kel said...

I'm with you on the gets wet/stays wet sports bra problem. That is also the one article of clothing that I tend to have chafing problems with, especially along the bottom right in front.

As much as I hate the treadmill, I tend to wimp out of outdoor running when it hits sub-zero temps. Today's run was nice at 20+ degrees (40 degrees warmer than it was 2 days ago), but I still overdressed and got sweaty.

Anonymous said...


I run in all kinds of weather in order to keep up with your training regimen! The cold is not a problem. I layer up with cool wick material and since my hands get extra cold I double layer my gloves. I will sometimes wear a baclava on really cold days. You just have to be prepared and that also means you have to have the correct equipment on your feet or it will be ugly (ie, ice joggers). I'm a southern boy who has learned to run in the cold and i love it!

I'm glad you are better. See you at Rocky Raccoon!

Lisa Smith-Batchen said...

thanks to you all for the great ideas to share..keep them coming.
I don't put anything on my face but here are a few other secrets for winter running:)
1. put your clothes in the dryer before you go out..I wear smartwool top and bottom as my bottom the stuff!
2. make sure you running shoes are in a warm place..I even put them by the fire place or heater before putting them on.
3. I carry a thermos in place of a water bottle with hot tea and if its late in the day I have even carried chicken broth:)
4. If your running in a race and it gets cold..see if the aid stations have soup and put this in your water bottle and sip on will stay warmer.
5. Once you finish your run in the cold take the clothes off right away and have a nice cup of real hot chocolate:)

Joe said...

I both run and cycle regardless of the weather. I think it is harder to stay warmer while riding than running, but I've found a few garments that work really well for me.
Whether running or cycling, my goal is to stay dry, not warm. With this as a goal, I rarely overdress. It wasn't always that way though, I have learned through trial and error.
For running in temperatures down to about 10-15 degrees, I typically wear a base layer and a heavy shirt. If it is windy, I'll wear a vest or a light wind-resitant jacket over it. I always wear a hat, typically a lightweight xc-ski hat. On the bottom, I'll wear fleece tights. However, once it goes below 20, I put on my Sporthill tights - nothing penetrates these.

For cycling, I have two different jackets that I choose from, depending on the cold and wind. The heaviest is windproof everywhere except the back, which is perfect because this is where the heat can escape from. Underneath, I wear a compression top. I find that these keep me really warm and wick moisture very effectively to the next layer up.
I have two different pairs of tights, one that is all fleece and the other has a wind/rain barrier. I wear these only when it is very cold and there is some moisture out. If it is dry, I always stick with the fleece tights. For my head, I either wear a fleece beanie or a balaclava. On my face, I apply vaseline - it really helps, especially on the cheeks.
For my hands, I have a heavy duty pair from Peal Izumi especially designed for cycling. Rarely do I have to wear a line underneath. I also have a lighter pair of wind-proof fleece gloves. For the feet, this is my worst area. I have a pair of winter road-riding boots, which I purchased a size too large to accommodate bulky socks. For most conditions, these are fine, but wind really plays a big part - I returned Saturday after riding 3 hours in 24 degrees with my feet tingling because it was so windy.

If anyone is interested in the brands I use, let me know. I tend to use smaller name compaines versus the biggies. They use the same materials but charge less because no advertising, etc. I have no financial interest in any (perhaps I should :))


TD said...


I have put in some cold runs here in Afton (as cold as -35) and here are few things that help.
1. Breathable clothing. I really like a lightweight top + wool arm warmers. I only put on a jacket in windy or colder than -25. I find that if I put a fleece jacket over my wind layer it helps draw out the moisture.
2. a balclava (spelling?) when colder than -20.

3. Windproof briefs.....duh!
4. Glove liners inside synthetic mountaineering mitts. If my fingers stay warm, I do too.

Now if I can just convince my wife to let me run arrowhead or susitna.

Anonymous said...

Let's try this.

Lisa Smith-Batchen said...

Hi All,

thanks for the great comments and suggestions..well if your in the Tetons right now they have 4 feet of new snow to run in and lots of wind!!
Ty I hope you get to do your Alaska race, I have a student running next month for his 3rd time!
Happy cold running

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the previous posting. I have had a hard time getting this to work.

This is Shelley from Whitehorse.

Interesting discussion, particularly given we didn't go above -35C today.

I don't agree with the researcher's findings...after 25 years of training, coaching and racing in fairly extreme low temps I am convinced you can accrue lung damage. Perhaps it is just due to the dry air, but I've never had the same hack, coughed blood or that awful green spitum after a long hot dry training run...even when the air has been laden with forest fire smoke. What I would agree is that you have to keep your mouth covered and the air warm particularly when your working hard....

Overdressing is a definitely killer.

As for gear, a local seamstress here sews fleece bras and fitted boxers with wind proofing in the front and over the butt. They are fabulous and prevent cold and butt chafe.

Body glide, vaseline, zinc oxide will also help you avoid frost bite.

Watch for cuffs, socks, etc. that are too tight. They restrict the blood flow to your hands, feet and sometimes ears making you cold.

You can try cayenne pepper in your socks or shoes...helps for some.

Eating and drinking are always a problem as the more dehydrated you get and the lower your blood sugar the colder you feel......

Merino wool next to the skin is perfect in all locations!! I don't think it's a big deal to over dress when you start out. If you layer, you can take things off and stick them in your pack or around your waist as you warm up (make sure it's before your sweating). The best thing with taking extra is if something bad happens e.g. you get lost and have a longer run than anticipated, roll an ankle, break through overflow, run into a moose, have to turn around, etc. or wait for a lift/rescue, you can add more layers.

Always wear breathable fabrics even when it's windy.

Fur works very well for all sorts of outer wear, is light and sheds the frost so it doesn't melt e.g. your hat or around your face.

If you come up and try our Yukon Arctic Ultra (marathon, 100, 300 and every other year 450 miles)race, it becomes obvious pretty quick what works and what doesn't.

Now the heat.....that's crazy!!!