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Health & Exercise Forum

Walk or Run Safely This Winter: Part 2 of 2

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Feb 3, 2014

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumPart 2 of 2

Last week, this column discussed the many benefits of snowshoeing as an option for those in NEPA to get outdoors and enjoy the winter. Today’s column will present another option for outdoor exercise when the weather is inclement…winter walking or running.

We live in such a beautiful environment. Each season brings its own unique beauty and winter is no different. Most will not have to abandon outdoor activities but you must make some adjustments in equipment, clothing and food for each season and temperature changes that go with it. These tips are also appropriate for those who qualified for the Boston Marathon in the spring and will be training all winter, as well as those who enjoy walking and running throughout the winter for exercise. Consider the importance of making changes and adjustments in training as well as clothing and equipment, according to the weather and temperature.

Winter Shoes & Equipment

There are running shoes specifically designed for use in wet, cold and sloppy winter conditions. These running shoes, which can also be used for walking, are considered “winterized” because they offer waterproofing, sealed seams, gaiter collars to keep out snow and slop, slip resistant fabric, anti-roll stability features, anti-microbial material and aggressive tread patterns for traction on slippery surfaces. Some shoe recommendations for both walkers and runners include:

  • Salomon – SnowCross 2 CS - $ 200.

  • Asics - Gel-Arctic 4 WR - $110.

  • Brooks – Adrenaline ASR  10 GTX - $140.

Additionally, I am a strong proponent of walking or trekking poles for improved balance and safety when brisk walking in winter conditions. They are light weight, adjustable, and collapsible. Some examples are: Black DiamondR Trail Back - $56.95 and MountainsmithR Rhyolite - $35.09. Also, an old pair of ski poles will work just fine.

Winter Clothing and Training

Over the past several 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:

  • Optimal warm-up in cold weather is very different than in the heat.
  • Spend more time warming up followed by slow gentle stretching in cold temps.


  • 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 or hypothermia. Therefore, the temperature in which you intensely perform in will overpower even the fittest athletes.

Strategies for Optimal Performance in Cold Temperatures

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


  • Humans possess limited physiological defenses against the cold.
  • Clothing – it is important to layer clothing. Use performance apparel such as UnderArmor (headgear, gloves, 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. Chemical hand and toe warmers are great. Wear running shoes designed for winter conditions when surfaces are slippery.
  • Warm-Up – gently warm up inside but don’t break a sweat. Wait for your running partner in the warm car or house until they arrive. The best warm up in very cold weather is to begin your activity SLOWLY! Runners, 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. Wear florescent and reflective colors running in fog, dusk or dawn. Run in daylight with the warmth of the sun when possible.
  • 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 peak know!


  • 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.

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 an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College and is in private practice in downtown Scranton.