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Winter Workout IQ

Suburban Focus Magazine, November/December 2006

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With the end of fall near and the start of winter soon upon us, it is important to evaluate your exercise routine and adjust it for the change in temperature. Whether the thermometer reads high or low, extreme temperatures in any direction can dramatically affect your workout effectiveness and also your own health and safety.

Adopting a few winter workout strategies can help you keep the benefits of your exercise routine and keep you safe as the temperature continues to drop and the wind chill rises.

As with any workout routine, exercising can quickly result in dehydration-despite the intensity level. This not only applies to those who prefer to brave the outdoors, but also for those who choose to stay warm in the gym or at home.

It's common to think less about hydration during the fall and winter months simply because you think you sweat less, but the truth is, your body requires just as much liquid in the winter as in the summer to keep you hydrated. Just because it's getting cold outside and you feel like you're sweating less during your workouts, doesn't mean you necessarily are and your body isn't losing the essential moisture it needs.

"People underestimate the value of hydration in winter because they don't always see or feel the sweat during their workouts," Dawn Jackson Blatner, a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and a registered dietician, says. "They need to realize they're not going to have that gauge in the winter and take preventative measures."

Another risk, according to Robyn Flipse, a registered dietician, is that people don't feel as thirsty in the winter as they do in the summer and the perceived thirst that often prevents dehydration in the summer is less evident.

To avoid the risks of dehydration, which include dizziness, weakness, headaches and muscle cramps, is to plan ahead and drink more fluid before an activity such as a workout or even shoveling snow or attending a football game. "People think ahead in the summer and bring a water bottle with them," Flipse explains. "They need to train themselves to also do that in the winter."

Although the recommendations for proper fluid intake have changed from the old "eight, eight-ounce glasses of water per day" to an overall fluid intake based on age, gender and activity level, it is still important to monitor hydration before, during and after your workouts. An approved guideline by the ADA is to consume 16 to 24 ounces of water one to two hours before your workout, eight ounces for every 15 to 20 minutes of activity during your workout and to replace the amount of liquid lost during your workout after, if any.

According to Blatner, one strategy to determine your liquid loss during your workout is to weigh yourself before and after exercise to determine if you are dehydrated. For example, if you lose a pound of weight during your workout, you can prevent future dehydration by drinking one pound (16 ounces), or the lost liquid amount, of water before and after exercising. For those working out more than 60 minutes, sports drinks will help to replace electrolytes and other necessary nutrients.

Although proper hydration is key to successful winter workouts, so are adapting to the outdoor elements. One of the largest dangers with the onset of the cold weather is your body's overexposure to it. Frostbite and hypothermia are injuries related to both under dressing and overexposure to cold temperatures and wind. Frostbite is the actual freezing of tissue and is most common with hands, feet, cheeks, nose and ears. Hypothermia is the decrease of your body's core temperature and result from inadequate dress, dehydration and fatigue. The result is your body temperature dropping down to 92 degrees, your pulse declines and your muscles become rigid due to low blood flow.

In cold weather, heat conservation is also key to avoiding these types of climate-related injuries. The first-and most important-defense is wearing the correct type and amount of clothing. Dress in lightweight layers that are water-resistant that you can remove or add during your workout. This will keep you warmer than dressing in one, bulky layer. Also, be sure to wear a hat and gloves to protect yourself.

Another obvious hazard to winter workouts is the change in physical conditions. Ice can make surfaces slippery and snow can hide potholes, curbs or ditches. It is best to stay on routes that you are familiar with and areas that have been shoveled and/or salted.

Adhering to these simple winter workout strategies will ensure you maintain both your health and exercise routine even when the weather turns cold.