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Health & Exercise Forum

Adjust for temperature and exercise all year round

Jan 30, 2017

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumMany people living in Northeastern Pennsylvania exercise outdoors year round. The psychological benefits are many. We live in such a beautiful environment. Each season brings its own beauty: The fresh green spring, the warm summer breezes, the colorful fall leaves, and the silent white blanket of winter snow. However, you may have to make some adjustments in equipment, clothing and food for each season and temperature changes that go with it. Soon, local temperatures will drop into single digits and it is critically important to make changes and adjustments in training according to the weather and temperature.

Over the past five years great strides have been made on understanding the effects of extreme temperatures on performance. Current wisdom from the University of Otago in New Zealand has found:

  • WARM-UP: Optimal warm-up in cold weather is very different than in the heat
  • THE BRAIN: Can anticipate changes in body temperature, with feedback from the skin, and will adjust the intensity automatically. Subconsciously, the brain calculates the outside temperature and the duration of the activity and will automatically slow down the performance even before fatigue occurs. If the performer attempts to override the brain, the cerebrum will respond by creating severe symptoms and sensation of exhaustion such as those associated with heat strain. Therefore, the temperature in which you intensely perform in will overpower even the fittest athletes.


Researchers have developed various strategies for athletes to stabilize their core temperatures in extreme hot or extreme cold conditions:

  • BELOW 45 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT CAUTION/COLD: Humans possess limited physiological defenses against the cold.
    • Clothing – it is important to layer clothing. Use UnderArmor (headgear, shirts and pants) to allow sweat to breath away from the skin to the next layer of clothing. Use a facemask to cover your mouth and nose to prevent frost bite and warm air before it enters the lungs.
    • Warm-Up – gently warm up inside but don’t break a sweat. The best warm up in very cold weather is to begin your activity SLOWLY! Runner’s, for example, should run a ¼ the normal pace for 3-5 minutes, then ½ pace for 3-5 minutes, then ¾ pace for 3-5 minutes to prevent injuries. After 10 to 15 minutes, you may open up the throttle.
    • Safety – is important. Be alert for icy patches and poor visibility for cars.
    • Cross-Train- if it is very snowy, skip the run and try cross-country skiing or snow shoe walking or jogging for a change. It is a great running substitute and vigorous workout!
    • Food & Drink – is different for activities in the cold. For a short-term exposure (1-4 hours) make sure you fill your muscles with lots of glycogen by getting 4 grams of carbohydrates for every pound of body weight. During exercise consume extra carbs by drinking 5 to 6 ounces of sports drink every 15-20 minutes. Hikers and campers performing vigorous activity in the cold for days at a time will require extra fat in their diet and on their bodies to store for energy. This is no time to count calories or fat intake. As anyone who has climbed the high peaks!
  • 45 TO 50 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT – OPTIMAL: Many physiologists and outdoor enthusiasts consider this temperature range to be optimal. It still requires 10 minutes of slow warm-up by ½ to ¾ pace running or cycling. Also, layers are advisable to start off warm, keep warm and shed before you become overheated. Food and drink requirements are still important as with all long duration activities but may be ¼ to ½ the above requirements.
  • 50 TO 70 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT – GOOD: It is much easier to get warmed up and loose in this temperature range. A pre run warm up and stretch will allow you to get into the run immediately. However, don’t be fooled – you can still overheat in this temperature with high intensity activity for moderate duration (75 to 90 minutes). Competitive athletes would be wise to train in the temperatures they will compete in for 7-10 days before the event. Also, don’ overexert on warm-ups longer than 5 minutes. Hydration days before, during and after the activity is critical.
  • ABOVE 70 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT – CAUTION/HOT: Warm temperatures present great challenges for vigorous and prolonged outdoor activities. Dispensing excessive body heat is difficult. Some studies suggest that pre-race cold baths or air conditioned room can significantly improve endurance. Early morning or evening workouts are best. As stated above, train in temps for 7-10 days before the event. Also, avoid overexert on warm-ups longer than 5 minutes and hydration days before, during and after the activity is critical.

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum” in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.