When the weather gets cold, you should make some changes to how you exercise. We're not talking about starting earlier because of the shorter days or making a playlist that motivates you to leave your warm house. There are some physiological changes that occur in your body in the cold that you need to consider. Joints become stiffer, your body reduces blood flow to your skin and muscles to stay warm, and your heart has to work a little harder. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't be active in the cold, it just means there are a few changes in your routine that are warranted. Here are a few:
A good warm up is always important to get your heart rate up, more blood to your muscles, and your aerobic system started. In the cold, it's even more important because of the changes we just listed. To start, get your heart rate up with a brisk walk or light jog. Follow that with a dynamic warm up rather than static stretches. Things like walking or jogging while pulling your knees up high to your chest, high kicks in front of you with straight knees to get your hamstrings loosened, or a walking lunge with an upper body twist can get you ready for more intense activity. Cater your warm up to what you have planned in your workout. If you're not sure how it should look, ask your physical therapist!
Drink water before, during, and after your workout. The temperature may be down, but you'll still sweat and you'll still lose water vapor in your breath. The drier air in winter makes your sweat evaporate quickly, so it's easy to underestimate how much fluid you've lost.
When you're done, don't rush inside. Cool down properly. Keep moving with a walk or another form of active recovery to let your heart rate come down. A cool down also helps your muscles to transition back to a relaxed state and can reduce soreness following your workout. After exercise is the right place for static stretching. You can also head inside for some foam rolling or self massage.
The shorter days and lower temperatures don't mean you're stuck inside. If you follow these tips, you can safely keep moving outside. If you'd like a customized warm up or cool down, or have questions about your exercise routine, your physical therapist is a great person to ask!