The Lowdown On Running Outdoors
Running in New York City's Central Park for the better part of a decade has taught me many things, not the least of which is that the majority of individuals prefer to exercise outside in warm weather as opposed to cold. During the winter months, traffic on the park's famed bridle path, as well as the paved outer loop, is limited to the true running and cycling diehards, who face even the most blustery mornings with tight-lipped determination and a pair of winter tights. However, once that first 80-degree day hits in May or June, the legions of runners and bikers who had been hibernating all winter long come out en masse, and Central Park's paths get so crowded that you almost forget it was a sparsely populated tundra just a couple months prior.
The Rumor: It's better to exercise outside when it's warm
Of course, this makes complete sense. It's easy to get motivated to run when the sun is shining and all the clothing you require is a T-shirt and shorts; it's a bit tougher to get pumped when the temperature is a brisk 22 degrees and you have to wear four layers and something called a balaclava to make sure your face doesn't freeze off. There's just one problem: Research shows that running in colder weather is ideal.
The Verdict: It's better to exercise outside when it's cold
"The colder the weather, the less heat stress on the body, which makes it significantly easier to run," Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist, sport performance coach and author of "The Marathon Method" told Shape magazine. "Running in hot and humid weather is extremely taxing on the body -- there is a reason why the majority of marathons are held in October and November."
That's all well and good, but certainly there comes a point when it's just too cold to exercise outside? "The answer is no," Dr. John W. Castellani, an exercise physiologist at the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, told The New York Times. "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."
Even those with exercise-induced asthma need not worry that inhaling cold air will harm their lungs. As Dr. Kenneth W. Rundell, the director of respiratory research and the human physiology laboratory at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania, explained to the New York Times, all air is at body temperature by the time it reaches your lungs. What can cause problems for those with respiratory concerns is dry air -- and, according to Rundell, “cold air just happens not to hold much water and is quite dry." His advice for those who suffer from such issues? See a specialist to get medication that you can take before exercising in dry air (whether hot or cold), and wear a balaclava so your exhaled breath can moisten the air you inhale.
More universally, the key to running safely in cold weather is to always keep moving (which will help prevent hypothermia) and to dress warmly -- but not too warmly. Wearing too many layers will hinder your movement and can cause you to sweat excessively, which has the undesired effect of cooling off your body. "You should feel cool before you start exercising," Dr. Castellani said. "You should not feel comfortable." Hey, nobody said exercising in the cold was pleasant.
The next time you head out the door for a cold-weather run or bike ride, heed these tips to get in a great workout -- and avoid hypothermia and/or frostbite!
1. Make sure you warm up properly. Muscles take longer to loosen up in the cold, so if you're doing a workout, start off slowly and gradually quicken your pace.
2. Gear up for the cold. The easiest way to ensure that you won't wimp out on your run or bike ride on a frigid February morning is to sport the appropriate clothing. You'll need lightweight base-layer tops, a slightly heavier running/cycling jacket, warm gloves and hat, tights and even a balaclava to protect your face on those truly bone-chilling days. While dressing for cold-weather running isn't something everyone relishes, there are some who appreciate it. "I love running in the cold," says Dalton Richardson, a four-mile-a-day runner from Alexandria, Virginia. "I like wearing the tights, which isn't all that comfortable when it's hot out." Can't argue with that.