MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Many West Virginia residents love the outdoors and the outdoor activities the state has to offer. But the Mountain State does experience all four seasons, meaning that some activities are done in the cold, such as skiing, sledding, and your classic running and biking.
So, how do you keep yourself safe in those chilly outdoor conditions?
Brian Leary, Assistant Professor of Exercise Physiology at WVU’s School of Medicine, said the first thing to do to warm up is to make sure you don’t get cold in the first place.
“The best thing you can do to kind of warm yourself up is to not let yourself get too cold, to begin with,” said Leary. “So, starting your exercise with the appropriate type of clothing on, making sure your head, your hands, and your body are covered and trying to dress in layers.”
The layers are very important, according to George Kelley, a professor with WVU’s Epidemiology and Biostatics.
“Typically, the recommendation is that you dress in three layers,” said Kelley. “One of the things you want to do for all of these is to avoid cotton because it’s not very good at breathing. When we talk about dressing in three layers, an inner layer, in other words, closest to the body that consists of lightweight polyester, or some type of polypropylene. A middle layer that consists of the same type of material. And importantly, an outer layer that allows moisture to actually transfer to the air.”
Sometimes though, the layers aren’t enough, especially when you have to spend some more time outside than expected.
There are some risks you take when staying outside for too long, according to Lori Sherlock, an associate professor of exercise physiology at WVU’s School of Medicine.
“So, hypothermia is when your body dips down under your normal body temperature and you can have some pretty adverse reactions to that. So, just be mindful of staying warm enough,” said Sherlock.
“Outside of hypothermia, the other risk we have to consider when we’re exercising in the cold is things like frostbite,” said Leary. “Rarely are we really out there long enough in our normal exercise for frostbite to become a real risk, but there are surfaces of our body that are at increased risk. And a lot of that is going to be in the face and our hands while we’re exercising.”
These two issues don’t come out of anywhere, as there are warning signs. But, sometimes, we ignore them.
“We should’ve experienced painfulness, numbing, tingling in our fingers far before that takes place,” said Leary.
“It can be something as simple as starting to lose our ability to have that level of coordination in our hands, in our lips, in our speech,” said Sherlock. “You may find that you are a little bit confused. So, there’s a mental fog associated with hypothermia, as well as slowed reactions, cold feet and hands. That simple symptom of ‘hey, I’m getting cold’.”
If you think you’re experiencing hypothermia or frostbite, there’s one simple solution to the problem: move inside where there’s warmth.
“What we try to do is move the person inside,” said Kelley. “If possible, try to avoid jarring movements because it can actually trigger dangerous irregular heartbeats.”
Kelley also recommends swapping out any wet clothing with dry, warm clothes.
There are other dangers to exercising outdoors as well, such as asthma attacks, slipping on ice, and getting lost.