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Winterize Your Workout

Keep active outdoors with the right clothing

By Bethanne Black

Plummeting temperatures shouldn't prevent you from enjoying your outdoor workout routine. Wearing the right clothing allows you to enjoy walking, running, cycling, hiking, or any other favorite activity during even the coldest winter months.

It takes just as long to adapt to cold weather as it does to warm temperatures — usually two weeks — so it helps to be prepared with the right clothing.

Even though it's cold outside, your body sweats when you are physically active. If you become overheated, dehydration may result. More importantly, an overheated person will sweat excessively. When this happens, your body gets chilled as air temperature cools you off.

"Wearing sensible clothing and outerwear will make you comfortable and more effective during your winter workouts," says Anita Ortiz, an Eagle, CO, athlete and fitness expert.

Cotton is not a good option, because it absorbs and holds moisture. Instead, opt for new lightweight materials and fabrics that pull sweat away from your skin so that you don't become overheated.

Fabrics with such names as Thinsulate®, Gore-Tex®, and Windstopper® offer excellent insulation and wick, or draw, away moisture faster than traditional fabrics. They can be layered effectively, Ortiz says.

Ortiz offers tips on layering:

  • The base layer of clothing, or first layer, should move perspiration away from your body, so choose synthetic materials such as polypropylene or polyester. This layer can be a very sheer fabric or a bit heavier, depending on your needs.
  • The middle layer, which has a looser fit than the base, should both insulate and remove moisture. Wear a slightly heavier shirt if it is very cold. Best choice is a lightweight wool or polyester fabric. Note: You may find that if you have a good base layer and a good outer layer, you won't require a middle layer.
  • The final layer is the outer shell, which should always suit weather conditions. With rain or wet snow, choose a waterproof layer; with wind, wear something windproof; in cold temperatures, wear a slightly heavier jacket. Avoid fleece or sweatshirt fabrics, which tend to hold onto moisture and make you colder.

Body heat is lost through the head, but a heavy hat will make your head sweaty. Instead, Ortiz recommends, choose a hat made of fabric such as polyester that will draw moisture away from your head and keep it sweat-free. Use ear warmers to protect your ears from frostbite.

Hands and feet need protection too. Look for gloves with removable polypropylene liners, allowing you to remove the liners if your hands became too warm. Choose socks with a polyester wool blend to pull moisture away from your skin.

In snow and ice, take extra precautions to avoid a fall. Choose clip-on or strap-on grippers that easily slip onto the bottom of your shoe.

Don't forget about the wind chill factor, Ortiz warns. Protect your face from harsh conditions by keeping your skin and lips moisturized.

Bethanne Black, of Atlanta, is a freelance journalist who specializes in health care.