Physical activity when it’s cold: precautions to take

Being physically active in winter can be beneficial in several ways. You burn more calories first because you are cold. It doesn’t make a huge difference, but your body has to work harder when it’s cold to maintain a functional temperature, so your training starts before you even make the slightest effort.

The three dangers of sports in cold weather

Exercising in cold weather is generally safe, provided you take certain precautions and are alert to the signs and symptoms related to the specific risks of cold temperatures. The three main dangers of playing sports in winter are frostbite, hypothermia and increased risk of heart attack, so you need to know the signs to look out for.

Falls due to ice are another potential risk. In cold weather, your heart and cardiovascular system have to work harder, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, and therefore potentially your risk of a heart attack.

Cold air can cause the airways to narrow, making it harder to breathe. If the weather conditions are extreme, it is better to opt for an indoor exercise routine until the conditions improve, for example by practicing bodyweight exercises.

Before you go out in the cold, make sure you can

If you have any of the following health conditions, check with your doctor before engaging in cold weather activities:


Exercise-induced bronchitis

Cardiac disease

Raynaud’s disease, a condition that impedes blood flow to parts of your body, causing them to become numb and turn blue, in response to cold or stress. This can make it difficult to tell if you are becoming hypothermic, and your risk of injury from reduced blood flow is increased.

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Choosing the right clothes for winter training

Practicing an outdoor sport in winter requires paying particular attention to your outfit. The key to your comfort and safety is a good layer of clothing that will keep you warm, but not too warm.

Here are some outfit suggestions for chilly winter training:

Shoes: choose sturdy shoes with good grip to avoid falls on ice or snow.

Layer it up: Put on three or more layers of clothing. Next to your skin, wear a light synthetic garment that will absorb moisture from your skin. Avoid thick cottons that absorb sweat and keep moisture close to the body, increasing your risk of hypothermia. Then add one or two woolen or fleece garments, which are warm and insulating.

Finally, put on a light, windproof and waterproof garment. It is also advisable to choose light-colored clothing and/or reflective material, as night falls more quickly.

Gloves: Gloves protect your fingers from frostbite. Layering thin gloves and warmer mittens is a good strategy, it allows you to remove a layer if necessary, without exposing your skin to the cold air.

Hat: In winter, it is important to cover your head because around 50% of body heat is lost through the head when it is exposed.

Mask and scarf: When the temperature drops below 0°C, covering your face with a scarf or mask can help warm the air a bit before it enters your lungs.

The health risks increase significantly when the temperature felt in the wind drops below -28°C.

Good sport this winter.


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