Confessions of a Winter Wimp

How Layering Changed My Life

"The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play-So we sat in the house All that cold, cold, wet day."  -Dr. Seuss

When it comes to exercising outdoors, are you a winter wimp? When the wind blows and the temperature dips, do you find excuses to stay inside and eat frozen Snickers instead of taking that walk, riding your bike or running several laps that strengthen your legs, boost your heart rate and calm your mind?

Fitness is a year-round pursuit, and the more days a week you go out and pursue it-running, walking, hiking, skiing, etc.-the happier and healthier you'll be. Cold-weather workouts can be wonderful, but you have to dress correctly, act wisely and keep a few things in mind:

This is a silly myth, so let's melt it down once and for all. Working out in cold weather does have an element of risk (from overexposure, mostly), but freezing your lungs is not one of them. So, relax and breathe deeply. The more tense you are-shoulders hunched, chest concave-the colder you'll feel. Another way to make yourself more comfortable is to wear a facemask or a scarf over your face. The warmer your breath, the warmer your body.

This is the key to comfort when you're playing outside. No matter your sport or level of performance, you'll feel better and work more efficiently if you wear several light layers instead of one or two big, bulky ones. Layering traps the air and keeps it warm-plus, if you get too hot, you can peel off a layer.

Think about three basic layers. That's all you need. Your first layer-the one closest to your skin-is the most important. Read the labels, and invest in cold-weather tights and tops that are made of a high-tech fiber that wicks sweat off your skin and keeps you dry. Cotton isn't a good choice next to your skin, not even thermal cotton, because once it's wet, it stays wet, and you will wind up feeling cold and miserable.

Your second layer depends on the weather and your personal preference. If it's especially cold, I like to add a wool turtleneck or a fleecy pullover. Or, if I'm cross-country skiing, I'll wear a down vest.

For your top layer, choose a lightweight jacket that is windproof and water resistant-something made of a technical material that breathes, like Gore-Tex. Don't wear a heavy jacket as your top layer. You'll overheat too quickly. A 100 percent nylon jacket is not ideal because it doesn't breathe, and your sweat can't evaporate.

Layers give you the most warmth and flexibility. When you heat up or the outside temperature changes, you can peel down. So think ahead, and wear a fanny pack or daypack to carry what you no longer need. It's also a good idea to keep water and a snack in the pack. When you're active, you need to keep drinking water, winter or summer. And a good healthy snack-such as trail mix, an energy bar or dried fruit-will keep your energy flowing.

Wear good gloves to keep your hands and fingers comfy­­­-and for added warmth, use liners or wear mittens. A hat is crucial because without one, you'll lose at least 50 percent of your body heat. And don't forget warm socks made with wool or a technical fiber that wicks away moisture. Again, cotton socks won't do the job because once they're wet, they stay wet, and nothing can ruin a cold-weather workout faster than frozen toes.

Don't let your healthy exposure to cold weather chap your lips and dry out your skin. Use quality products (not necessarily expensive ones) to keep your lips moist and your skin lubricated. To protect your eyes and the thin skin around them, wear sunglasses or goggles.

I've saved my best tip for last. Don't resent cold weather or think of it as the enemy. It's just weather. Relax into it. The less energy you spend fighting the cold, the warmer you will feel. I know. I've been there. I overcame fear of freezing...and so can you.

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