I love this time of year. The end of one year and beginning of a new one gives us that holiday spirit we only experience this time of year, especially with the cool mornings we’ve been having. A very good North Carolina friend suggested a topic for me to write about that we usually don’t have to contend with much in South Georgia — exercising in the cold.
For those who like to run or do other activities outdoors, it can be a nice invigorating change from the heat and humidity we usually experience here in Albany. You can also burn more calories in the winter. Research published in “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise” found that race times are faster in cold weather and quicker runs mean more calories burned. That can definitely be a bonus this time of year with our favorite indoor activity – eating!
Almost everyone can exercise safely in cold weather. Exercise generates heat in the body; enough to make us feel it’s much warmer than it really is. No matter what the temperature outside reads, the body will work to maintain the healthy and happy temperature of 98.6 degree Fahrenheit. Just as certain safety precautions need to be taken when exercising in extremely hot and humid conditions, we need to also take certain precautions when exercising in the cold. Depending on the temperatures and conditions, cold-related injuries include everything from minor injuries incurred from slippery surfaces to serious conditions such as frost bite and hypothermia. However, one of the most common winter weather problems for many, especially in this part of the country, is exercise-induced asthma.
Exercise-induced asthma, or EIA, symptoms are more common in cold weather, and caused by sudden narrowing of the airways after strenuous exercise. It is often triggered by cold, dry air, though it can also occur in relatively warm temperatures. The hot, humid weather we have here most of the year is actually favorable for those with EIA. Exercise in a cold and dry environment is one of the greatest stimuli for EIA symptoms.
The most common symptoms include difficulty breathing, coughing, burning chest pain and, possibly wheezing. Generally, symptoms develop a few minutes after exercise has stopped. A second bout of coughing due to inflammation may occur several hours later.
Exercise-induced asthma is not quite the same condition as asthma. About 90 percent of people with asthma also may have asthma attacks triggered by exercise. In children, wheezing after exercise is often the first clue that they have asthma. But people can also suffer from EIA without underlying asthma, and a better term for this condition is exercise-induced bronchospasm. Athletes who frequently train in cold weather conditions may develop EIA, even when they have no prior history of asthma, because continued exposure of the lung passageways to cold air can damage airways.
Most experts think that the problem is not so much the coldness of the air but with the dryness. Lungs need water-saturated air. If the air entering your bronchial tubes is dry, as it usually is in winter, the cells lining your airway release their own moisture to humidify it.
DEALING WITH SYMPTOMS
If exercising in the cold triggers coughing and an asthma attack, you may need to take your routine indoors during colder weather days. When you go outside in very frigid weather, wrap your face in a scarf and breathe through the scarf. This warms up the air you breathe and protects your airways.
Warming up for 15 minutes before you go outside to exercise, by jogging in place or riding a stationary bicycle, also helps prevent coughing and wheezing after exercise. When practical, breathe through your nose. The air breathed in will be far moister than that breathed in through your mouth. Drinking more water, which is very important for hydration, hasn’t been shown to combat EIA.
Current research shows that those affected with bronchial and asthmatic conditions can and should participate in vigorous exercise and competitive sports. According to the National Asthma Prevention and Education Program, children and adults with EIA should be encouraged to fully participate in physical activity and organized sports.
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and healthy, happy 2014 as we brave the cold and run into the New Year!
Perry Buchanan, owner of PT Gym, is certified as a Health Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine, and Fitness Nutrition Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.