The year is swiftly coming to a close. While that means the holidays are right around the corner, it also means that the weather is about to get much colder. Many people enjoy the cold, while others do not respond to it nearly as well. Regardless of if you like it or hate it, it is coming. However, for those that enjoy staying active, how does cold weather affect your workouts?
We have all known at least one person who has reported aches and pains throughout the cold months. They often note that they can feel rain or the cold weather coming because of pain felt in their joints. However, can cold weather affect your body in these ways? As with all things, your body reacts to new stimuli differently. Not everyone is going to have a significant response to the cold that another person might have.
Regardless, the cold can have an effect on your body, which means cold weather can affect your workouts. To what extent is different for each individual. If you do plan on staying active throughout the winter month (which Fitness Nation recommends), you should remember that your workouts might not feel the same as they did in the summer and fall.
Your Heart Has to Work Harder.
Humans are warm-blooded. We need to keep our body at a stable temperature to ensure that all our organs function properly. Whenever your body gets too hot or too cold, it adapts to these changing temperatures. In the cold, your body’s natural response is to tighten the arteries and veins running throughout your body.
As you can imagine, when the passageways in your arteries narrow, the level of circulation decreases. Your heart has to work much harder to pump blood that your heart and body need. Not only do the arteries tighten, but the blood also gets thicker. The thicker your blood, the slower it circulates.
Your heart has to work overtime to ensure that your body receives the blood it needs.
As we mentioned earlier, when it gets cold, the arteries in your body tighten. As the circulation in your body reduces, it causes stiffness and tightness throughout your body. Also, heat is a natural muscle relaxer. It reduces the tension in your muscles, ligaments, and tendons and allows you to move more fluidly. The cold has the opposite effect.
The cold causes your muscles to tighten up, which puts you at a greater risk of injuries. That is why it is so crucial to stretch before your workouts in the winter. Stretching is an easy warm-up that (to no surprise) warms up your body and activates the parts of your body that will be engaged during your workout.
Cold Weather Reduces Muscle Function.
Within the same vein, the cold also reduces muscle function. While tighter muscles do lead to reduced function, the cold reduces what they can do in different ways. As your body gets colder, the nerve impulses in your body also slow down. With these nerve impulses slowed, it takes longer for your brain to tell your body to move the way you want it.
Additionally, manual dexterity also declines. However, you have to be in extreme temperatures for it to decrease to a dangerous point, such as in mountain climbing. Tasks as simple as tying your shoes or zipping your jacket become hard in these instances.
Cold Weather Helps You Burn More Calories.
While people often focus on the adverse effects of cold weather, it does have some benefits. Your body tends to burn more calories in the cold than it does in the summer. A study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that exercising in the cold activated your body’s thermogenic genes, which causes your body to burn more calories.
As we mentioned earlier, humans are warm-blooded. We need to keep our bodies at a consistently warm temperature to survive. In the cold, staying warm becomes difficult, so our bodies naturally use more energy to keep us warm.
Your Body Will Fatigue Faster.
While burning calories is all well and good, it can also be an issue. When you burn calories, you expend your body’s energy stores. Because your body needs to work overtime in the winter to stay warm, you use more energy at a much faster rate, which causes your body to fatigue much faster.
A study of Navy SEALS engaging in mountain warfare/cold weather training found that these individuals struggled to maintain their body’s energy demands in the cold climate. You have to expend more energy in cold weather to keep yourself warm, which leaves you with less to work with during an exercise. Make sure you replenish your fuel throughout the day to ensure you have enough energy to make it through a workout, especially before and after a workout.
Our Bodies Dehydrate Faster.
When you exercise, your body naturally loses plenty of its water through sweat and urinating. However, dehydration becomes an even bigger issue in the winter. When the weather is cold, the air becomes dryer. Your body naturally loses moisture in the cold. That is why so many people have chapped lips and dry skin throughout the winter.
As you can assume, the amount of water you lose during a workout is much higher in the cold. Dehydration can be dangerous if you are not careful, but in the winter, a person might not feel as thirsty. The cold affects our thirst sensations, diminishing thirst by as much as 40%, which is why it is always vital to stay hydrated, especially in cold weather.
Staying Safe in the Cold
The cold impacts your body in different ways. If you plan on staying active this winter, there are plenty of things you should do to ensure you do not suffer any unnecessary injuries due to the cold’s effects:
- Stay hydrated
- Fuel up before and after a workout with plenty of carbohydrates
- Wear layers
- Warm-up before your workout
- Stay inside in extreme temperatures
- Be wary of cooldowns (you do not want to cool down too much and not be able to warm up in time)
- Listen to your body
Staying active is one of the best things we can do for our physical and mental health. As we approach the winter months, it is essential that you understand just how the cold affects your body. If you do not have a gym to call home, and you want to stay active this winter, join Fitness Nation today.