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Appropriate clothes key to running outside during winter

As I headed out recently for a morning run, I was almost paralyzed by the rush of frosty air. I made it about a quarter of a mile before turning back and heading home to grab my car keys so I could drive to the YMCA.

The colder weather doesn’t necessarily mean you have to resort to running inside on a treadmill, but it does take a little planning.

“The key to running outdoors, or doing any outdoor exercise, during the winter is wearing the appropriate clothing,” said Sheryl Baker, director of Navigation Services for Ascension Via Christi Alliance in Accountable Care. However, she cautions against dressing too warmly because it can cause you to become over heated and ultimately chilled due to the evaporation of sweat. The key, she said, is layering.

Baker has been an avid wellness enthusiast for 25 years, teaching at both of Via Christi’s hospital-based fitness centers before becoming a health educator for Ascension Via Christi Weight Management Program, and finally moving into population health programs management.

Here are a few tips for safe and warm cold weather running shared by Baker and fitness experts from various runners’ resources.

Layer. Layering traps body heat and allows sweat to move through the layers of clothing. Start with a thin layer of synthetic material, such as polypropylene (often called Dri-FIT), which pulls sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton as it stays wet next to your skin. Add a layer of fleece or wool for insulation and finally a waterproof jacket or sweatshirt.

Cover your head. About 30 percent of your body heat is lost through your head. Wear a hat or at least a head band that covers the ears. If it’s below freezing, consider a face mask or a neck gaiter, which is similar to a turtleneck that you can pull up over your mouth to protect your face and help avoid throat irritation from the cold air.
Protect your hands. The fingers are particularly vulnerable to the cold and frostbite. Try wearing a thin pair of glove liners made of a wicking material under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens. Remove the outer pair if your hands begin to sweat or they feel too hot.

Wear the right shoes. Make sure you are wearing shoes designed for running, and that the soles offer good traction to avoid slipping on wet or icy surfaces. For increased warmth, wear shoes with the least amount of mesh and consider buying shoes that are a half-size larger so you can wear thermal socks over wicking socks in extreme cold. 

Vaseline. Protect your lips with some Chapstick or Vaseline. You can also apply it on your nose and cheeks to prevent windburn and chapping. 

Be safe. Sometimes it’s hard for drivers to see runners. Wear reflective gear and light-colored clothing that contrasts with nature, such as florescent yellow, orange, pink or green. Carry a phone and be sure to let someone know your exercise route and your expected return time, in case something goes wrong.

Hydrate. People often think that just because they don’t feel like they are sweating profusely, that they aren’t losing water. You can become just as dehydrated in the cold as you can in the in the heat from sweating, and increased urine production. Drink water or sports drinks before, during and after your workout, even if you aren’t thirsty. 

Don't stay in wet clothes. If you get wet or sweat, change your clothes and get to warm shelter as quickly as possible. Being cold and wet increases your risk for hypothermia,

Check with your doctor. Cold air can sometimes trigger chest pain or asthma attacks. Talk to your doctor if you have any medical conditions or concerns about exercising outdoors.

“Purchasing the right winter running clothing may cost a little,” Baker said. “But it’s very important and will pay off in the long run in terms of comfort, safety and better health as a result of maintaining an exercise routine.”