As the days warm up, now is a great time to evaluate your exercise regime. When exercising throughout the seasons you may need to change your routine if it no longer suits the time of year.
Being a keen runner (pre-pregnancy!) I have trained in both very cold and very hot conditions. I once found myself with heat exhaustion after competing in a half marathon on an unseasonably hot day. Had I been more aware of ways to avoid this, I would have fared a lot better!
Having a varied exercise routine is important for a number of reasons. These include ensuring your musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems are constantly being challenged and adapting to various stimuli.
People tend to plateau when they stick to the same type/intensity of exercise. Your body quickly becomes acclimatised to the specific requirements of the exercise. This is known as the SAID principle (specific adaptations to imposed demands). A varied exercise routine will assist in keeping you interested in staying fit. It can also help prevent you from giving up on an exercise routine.
Some sporting activities tend to be more solitude in nature (i.e. distance running and swimming). Mixing these activities up with more social pursuits such as team sports can help add a layer of healthy competition, not to mention accountability, to your exercise regime.
From a physiological perspective, our bodies respond to and recover from different forms of exercise differently. This can depend on the air temperature and humidity in which we are training. I am going to elaborate on these differences and factors to be mindful of when exercising throughout the seasons.
It is important to note that our core body temperature generally sits between approximately 36.5 – 37.5 degrees celsius. The hypothalamus is the part of our brain that acts to regulate this constantly. This is particularly so when the air temperature is significantly cooler or hotter than this.
Exercising in the cold:
Cool air temperature + wind = wind chill. Wind chill can make exercising in the cold very dangerous as it can cause your core temperature to drop rapidly. It may even lead to hypothermia.
Hypothermia is when your core temperature drops below 35 degrees celsius. If not medically-treated, hypothermia can be fatal. Symptoms of hypothermia include:
- a weak pulse
It is important to ensure you have as much skin covered as possible when exercising in extremely cold conditions as exposed skin can be prone to frostbite. Frostbite is an injury to the skin and underlying tissues in which these tissues become frozen. Symptoms of frostbite can include:
- numbness of the affected area
- grey-blue skin
- blistering of the skin when normal warmth returns
Nutrition and Hydration in the Cold
It is important to ensure adequate nutrition and hydration when exercising in the cold. Our bodies don’t give us the same cues to rehydrate when cold, however, it is still possible to become dehydrated without realising.
Adequate nutrition and hydration is important prior to exercising, during exercise and upon completion of your exercise. The fabric of your sporting attire can make a big difference in retaining heat when exercising in the cold. Cotton tends to hold moisture, which can quickly lower your core temperature. On the other hand, polypropylene, fleece or wool tend to retain warmth and may act as a layer of insulation.
Examples of safe exercise modalities in the cooler weather include:
- Clinical exercise (our studio is always climate-controlled)
- Gym classes, i.e a spin cycling class
- Heated yoga
- Hydrotherapy in a heated pool
- Of course outdoor workouts (running, cycling, bootcamp etc) are perfectly safe if you are well-prepared. It is important to ensure you head back indoors promptly to avoid a drastic drop in your body temperature
Exercising in the heat:
As I mentioned above, I developed heat exhaustion following a very hot half marathon. While I was not in any serious medical danger, I was extremely uncomfortable for the remainder of the day.
Heat exhaustion can be developed when you are exposed to high air temperatures. This is especially relevant when coupled with demanding physical exercise. In heat exhaustion, your core temperature will be less than 40 degrees celsius. Your body is not able to sufficiently cool itself down and symptoms may include extreme sweating, nausea and headaches.
Treatment for heat exhaustion involves:
- ceasing physical activity
- getting into a cooler place, i.e. an air-conditioned room or shade if you are outside.
If not appropriately-managed, heat exhaustion can turn into heat-stroke which is much more of a medical threat. Heat stroke is when your core temperature reaches 40 degrees celsius or higher. Symptoms can include:
- red and dry skin
- shortness of breath
- can lead to a loss of consciousness if not treated promptly.
Treatment for heat stroke is undertaken in hospital. It involves rehydration via an IV drip and a number of measures to cool the person down.
Clothing and Sunscreen
Most activewear is now designed to breathe and wick away sweat. This helps us maintain a regular body temperature when exercising. It is important to consider the impact of chaffing and blisters if you are exercising in the heat or tend to sweat heavily during exercise. While both can be extremely painful, they can also be prevented by wearing appropriate attire. If you know you are prone to blistering wearing prophylactic bandaids and investing in an anti-chaffing cream can be helpful.
Wearing a sports-specific and high-SPF sunscreen is crucial. In addition to this, wearing a hat and covering as much skin as possible will minimise direct sun exposure. This will decrease the risk of sunburn when exercising.
Following exercise in the heat, you may choose to rehydrate with electrolytes. These replace what you have lost during times of heavy sweating.
Examples of safe exercise modalities in the warmer weather include:
- Indoor exercise classes (clinical exercise or gym classes)
- Running on a treadmill
- Spin classes
- Swimming in a non-heated pool
- Creating your own bootcamp/circuit in an air-conditioned space
- Non-heated yoga classes
We are so fortunate to live in a country where we have the variety of seasons. It is important to factor in these above pointers and choose an exercise form that is both safe and enjoyable.
For running advice and coaching chat to Chris White www.gorun.com.au
For nutrition advice and meal planning to assist with training goals chat to Bella Maugeri at www.chowbellanutrition.net