So autumn is setting in again… how’s that exercise regime coming along?
Let’s be honest – when it comes to cold-weather exercise, most us feel pretty bearish. That is, the shortening days and plunging temperatures often make us want to find a cave and re-emerge in April.
Perhaps I’m an exception here, because I quite enjoy exercising in the cold. For one thing, it’s usually easier to warm yourself up on a freezing run than it is to cool down on a scorching one.
Not all of us feel that way, of course. But year-round exercise is important for our health. For our joints, our muscles and our all-round wellbeing. It’s just a case of approaching it in the right way.
Start warm, stay warm
No-one’s body relishes going from 0mph in a centrally-heated hallway to 60 in a howling gale two seconds later. Running in cold weather generally feels more comfortable when your muscles have had a 10-minute warm-up beforehand. So do a little stretching or jogging on the spot before you turn up the speed dial – even before you leave the comfort of the hallway.
Get the gear
If you have any spare change in the piggy bank, now might be a good time to reassess your sporting wardrobe. Go for the pro-runner’s layered approach rather than heading out in the closest available thick woolly jumper. Layers of clothing gives you more flexibility as the temperature fluctuates. Also remember reflective straps if you’re intending to run anywhere near a road as the day darkens.
Plan your route
Regular routes lull us into a false sense of familiarity. When the weather changes, the conditions can change quite drastically. So plan ahead. Find a route that avoids the worst of the uneven ground, or boggy spots that will have you vaulting into the unknown every two minutes. For grass-based sports like football and rugby, remember that softer ground has an effect on studs. ‘Planting’ – where the foot sticks in the turf – is one of the most common causes of twists and wrenched joints.
Mix it up
Running on uneven ground isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact it can help to build up different kinds of muscles – and our body’s proprioception, that natural ability to maintain joint balance and equilibrium as the environment changes around us. Bear this in mind if you’re planning to switch from very firm and even conditions (like a treadmill) to off-road running. If you rarely run on bumpy courses, build up to them gradually.
Cold weather can be a motivation killer. But try not to be cowed by it. Turn it to your advantage. Remember that exercise improves energy levels and our overall sense of wellbeing – no small thing if winter often leaves you feeling low and gloomy. Getting into the sunlight also allows our bodies to make the ‘sunshine vitamin’, Vitamin D (recent studies have shown that a lack of Vitamin D is linked to muscle pain). And there’s the calorie factor: we burn more energy in cold conditions as our bodies work harder to keep warm. More impact for the same effort: a payoff that even the most bearish of bears might well appreciate.
Looking for more running tips? Read our blog post on preparing for marathons.