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Winter is coming, but let’s not stop playing sports: how to exercise in the cold | get informed

Almost without realizing it, winter surprises us every year and, although it does not officially arrive until December 21, we already have a proper time for this season, at least in some areas of the northern hemisphere. It is now when we have to start dealing with winter environmental conditions. If you are one of those people who exercises outdoors or in environments where it is cold (for example, at low temperatures or with strong winds) we have to tell you that, although humans operate within very narrow optimal body temperature limits to To guarantee thermal balance, exposure to cold (especially in the climatic conditions throughout the national territory) is not considered in itself an obstacle to physical exercise.

In fact, humans have thermoregulatory mechanisms designed to facilitate adaptability to wide ranges of environmental temperatures, especially cold environments. Despite all of the above, it can have effects on sports performance and also on health. Let’s see the main effects below.

the way to exercise

In relation to sports performance, we must differentiate between aerobic exercise and muscular strength exercise. There is no consensus on whether exercising in the cold, compared to milder temperatures, impacts aerobic performance, but it does appear to have a deteriorating effect on strength capacity. In addition, it seems that low temperatures also deteriorate the equilibrium.

The effects on health are very broad: they can range from very mild and rapidly reversible to very serious and irreversible. Exercise-induced bronchospasm, which is caused by a transient increase in airway resistance and responsiveness, elicited after 3 to 8 minutes of intense physical exercise in a cool, dry environment, can usually reverse after the first 30 minutes. recovery minutes. The most common symptoms that occur are the common cough, wheezing and excessive mucus formation.

Hypothermia (core body temperature below 35°C) is more common in prolonged exposure to cold during endurance sporting events or mountain expeditions. Severe hypothermia (core body temperature below 32°C) could lead to death in extreme situations (cold water immersion, rain and low temperatures, windy environments) where thermal equilibrium cannot be maintained.

the type of person

We must bear in mind that there are a number of non-environmental risk factors that can make us more susceptible to health problems due to cold. These are:

  • Sex. Women have twice the risk of hypothermia than men. These sex differences are mediated by the interaction with body fat, the thickness of fat folds, and the amount of muscle.
  • Children and the elderly have a lower tolerance to cold and, therefore, the risk of hypothermia increases.
  • Composition and body size. There is strong evidence to suggest that the percentage of fat (>25%) and the amount of muscle are predictors of the body’s ability to maintain body temperature in cold environments.
  • Outfit. Thanks to the property of clothing to reduce the loss of body heat to the environment, the risk is reduced.
  • Black people are 2 to 4 times more at risk than other racial groups.
  • Low caloric intake. Intakes of less than 1,200-1,500 kilocalories per day decrease metabolism and therefore heat production, which contributes to the inability to maintain body temperature.
  • The use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs increase the risk.
  • Training and aerobic capacity have little effect on the thermoregulatory response to cold.

In addition to the above non-environmental factors, there are environmental risk factors that have an even greater weight on the possible effects on health. The appearance and severity of these effects depend on the combination of 3 factors: (1) low air or water temperatures in case of immersion (or both), (2) wind speed and (3) duration of The exhibition. The cold stress index (wind-chill temperature index) depends on these factors.

environmental conditions

This index gives an indication of how cold a person feels when exposed to the combination of cold air and wind. The index estimates the danger of freezing in various combinations of conditions. This index is useful to control the potential risk due to cold that we must face if we are exposed to low temperatures. The additional air movement that we generate when running, cycling or skiing must be taken into account when estimating the risk of cold.

The best way to combat the cold and maintain a comfortable temperature is through a good selection of sports clothing. The issues to take into account are: ambient temperature, presence of wind or rain and intensity of physical activity. As the intensity of the exercise increases, less thermal insulation of clothing will be needed.

The thermal protection of different clothing combinations is represented by clo units. 1 clo of insulation is the clothing that allows a person at rest to be comfortable at a temperature of 21 °C. The interaction between exercise intensity and environmental conditions will give us the selection of clothing based on clo units. The usual equipment for the cold is an inner layer that allows the evaporation of sweat without retaining it, an intermediate layer that provides insulation and an outer layer that is resistant to water and wind that allows the evaporation of the sweat generated.

Special attention should also be paid to the protection of the extremities (feet and hands) and head. Even following general guidelines, each person should adjust their clothing according to their specific responses to cold and their level of thermal comfort. In any case, you should avoid wearing excessive clothing, feeling a little cold before starting the activity, and wear clothes that breathe to avoid additional complications from sweating.

From a security perspective, when extreme cold conditions occur, temperatures below -15 °C, the competition or training should be cancelled, and this consideration should be taken into account in the female category or in the youngest . Let’s apply common sense to any adverse weather situation and in case of doubt always prioritize safety.

The saying goes that “in bad weather, good face”. Let’s take all of the above into account, and let’s continue practicing the sport that we love so much. Let time not stop us. And if the conditions get really bad, we can always switch to any indoor activity. The question is not to stop and keep moving.

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