Fitness / Outdoor Running

Your Body’s Weird Reactions to Cold Weather Running

Cold weather running can do some pretty crazy things to even the most experienced runner. Here's what to look out for.

You already know how to prepare for cold weather workouts. You can add extra clothing layers and adjust your running pace just to name a few. So, let’s dive into a different sort of cold weather running prep. Let’s investigate the weird things your body might do while you’re outside in low temperatures. From a runny nose to shivering to numbness, here are nine cold weather body reactions to keep in mind if you plan on taking your exercise routine outdoors.

Reduced Blood Flow

When you get cold, your body immediately springs into action. It takes all the blood that normally flows to the surface of your skin, and sends it to your vital organs. The result involves chilly hands and feet, which is actually a good thing in terms of conserving body heat. Still, that’s why you’ll want to wear gloves and cozy socks to keep your extremities warm.

Red Cheeks

Another side effect of cold, dry weather? Redness and rosacea. Your skin is more sensitive and easily irritated, and reduced blood flow near your body’s surface (i.e., your face) can lead to blood vessels that dilate and burst, leading to red cheeks. Be sure to lather on the sunscreen even in the dead of winter, or wear a face mask, to protect your skin during cold weather running.

Runny Nose

Robert Herbst, a health and wellness coach, says a runny nose functions as a natural defense mechanism to prevent viruses and infection from infecting the body. Also, your nose’s job is to add moisture to the air your breathe before it hits your lungs. When it’s cold and dry outside, experts says that your nose essentially goes into overdrive, which can sometimes lead to extra fluid.

Headache

Similar to rosy cheeks during outdoor workouts, your body’s reduced blood flow can also impact how your head feels. For instance, during cold weather running, you might start to get a headache from cold and wind—especially if you skipped a hat, scarf or earmuffs. Remember to cover all exposed parts of your head and neck, so you can concentrate on your workout instead.

Burning Lungs

Freezing air won’t hurt your lungs, but it certainly might lead to a burning sensation that may feel like you can’t catch your breath. Wearing a scarf or face mask can help keep the air warmer as you breathe in and out. But, know the feeling of icy air hitting your lungs will likely pass in a few minutes. (One note of caution, though: if you have asthma, you’re at higher risk for something called “exercise-induced bronchitis.” Always check with your doctor first, and stop your workout if you’re coughing excessively or having trouble breathing.)

Aches and Pains

Cold weather often equals tight muscles. Since blood flow isn’t necessarily getting to your tendons and muscles like it normally would you may experience more general aches and pains throughout the body. Less flexibility increases your chance of sprains or pulled muscles, so move with caution and make time for a solid warm-up to prep your body for an outdoor workout.

Shivering

When your body temperature starts to slip below the standard 98 degrees, your brain essentially says, “Hey, muscles? Start moving to stay warm.” And, the colder you get, the more you shiver in order to produce heat—and you can technically help your own cause by clapping, jumping, or stomping your feet to create more energy and heat for your body.

Numbness

If you feel numbness or a burning or tingling sensation in your body during an outdoor workout, don’t ignore it. Go inside, warm the affected area, and then check in with your doctor or a medical professional. Numbness can be a sign of frostbite, hypothermia, or a chronic condition called Raynaud’s disease—none of which you want to have, if you can help it.

Fatigue

We’ve all been there: you want to workout, but glacial temperatures mean you’re on the couch with a good book or hitting the snooze button in the morning. It’s not your fault! Cold weather is typically paired with less daylight and higher levels of melatonin, which can make you feel more tired and sluggish than usual. Your options? Rest up, go to bed early, or lean on your Aaptiv community for motivation to stick with your workout routine.

Fitness Outdoor Running

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