Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Exercising in the cold? Follow these tips to avoid hypothermia

Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin offers some potentially life-saving tips to those who choose to brave the elements in the coming days.

Exercising in the cold? Follow these tips to avoid hypothermia


The winter is officially upon us. That will mean sleet and rain for some, snow and ice for others—but cold weather for all. It is important to know how cold weather affects one’s health and well-being in order to avoid serious health consequences. 

We are well aware that we must check on the sick and the elderly during the cold winter months to make sure they have safe and sufficient heating. Similarly, we know we must spare infants and children from exposure. These groups are known to be at high risk when the temperatures drop.  Obvious activities, such as lifting heaving shovels of snow or pushing a stuck vehicle out of a snow bank are known to put a great deal of stress on the heart.

But did you know that even a beautiful walk through heavy, wet snow or a light winter jog may be threatening to one’s health as well? Many exercise enthusiasts who continue to train outdoors during the winter season have been known experience “accidental hypothermia.” Precautions must be taken to avoid this life-threatening condition.  

Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 95° F. At these temperatures, the body is no longer capable of producing enough energy to keep its internal temperature warm enough to allow normal function of vital internal organs.

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It has been said and bears repeating that the 1st casualty of hypothermia is common sense and reasoning. In fact, many victims of hypothermia have been found undressed in the frigid temperatures. We now know that this is a bizarre but common phenomenon among hypothermia victims. It is imperative that you plan outdoor activities with a warm body and sound mind. Identify the potential risk factors for hypothermia before venturing out. 

Some Risk factors for hypothermia include:

Air temperature:  Hypothermia is possible at temperatures even in the 50s if not prepared!  It has occurred in relative warm temperatures.

Wind Chill: We hear forecasts on the weather channels such as ‘the Temperature is X°’ with a Wind Chill of Y°.’ The wind chill is not the actual temperature but what the temperature feels like. This may give the wrong impression. Understand that the wind chill is not only what the temperature ‘feels like’ but is the actual temperature impact on your body! Pay attention to this number. You can go to the internet for a chart or wind chill calculator.

Moisture: Will you be encountering rain/sleet/snow? Do you expect to sweat? Between your first layer of clothing and your skin lies a very thin layer of air. Air is trapped there no matter how tight the first layer. The body warms that air which in turn warms the body. It is a very effective insulator. When that layer of air is replaced by water, the insulation becomes ineffective in cold weather. In fact, as the sweat or rain cools, it serves to cool the body even further!

Wear rain-resistant gear— layers of fabrics that will draw moisture away from the body and trap air between the layers. If you are exercising and intend to sweat, consider carrying dry clothes with you to change into at regular intervals.

Other gear: In addition to your layered garments, be sure to wear a hat to trap the heat that wants to escape from your head, along with gloves, scarf and waterproof footgear!

Age and health: Even if you are one of our many healthy and active ‘seasoned citizens’ your body’s thermo-regulatory system is not as efficient as it was when you were younger or ‘less seasoned.’ Bear this in mind and warm up well, indoors, before going out.  Come in before your core temperature drops and with plenty of time to warm back up!

Symptoms of hypothermia include loss of coordination, mental confusion, slow reactions, shivering and sleepiness. Heart failure causes most hypothermia-related deaths.

Some final points of advice:

  • Victims of hypothermia will not recognize it in themselves. Take charge.
  • Hypothermia is a 911 Emergency. Do not hesitate to call them.
  • The best, immediate treatment for a victim of hypothermia is to prevent further heat loss and get them warm. Warming must be done slowly and carefully, ideally in a hospital setting. 
  • NEVER encourage a potential hypothermia victim to jog or exercise to get them warm.  You will force the cold blood in their extremities to their heart and internal organs which can have devastating consequences.  
  • The best advice, as always, PREVENTION.

Stay warm! Stay dry!

-By Jim McCrossin, ATC

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About this blog

Whether you are a weekend warrior, an aging baby boomer, a student athlete or just someone who wants to stay active, this blog is for you. Read about our growing list of expert contributors here.

J. Ryan Bair, PT, DPT, SCS Founder and Owner of FLASH Sports Physical Therapy, Board Certified in Sports Physical Therapy
Brian Cammarota, ATC, PT, DPT, CSCS Physical Therapist at Good Shepard Penn Partners, Partner at Symetrix Sports Performance
Desirea D. Caucci, PT, DPT, OCS Co-owner of Conshohocken Physical Therapy, Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Michael G. Ciccotti, M.D. Head Team Physician for Phillies & St. Joe's; Rothman Institute
Julie Coté, PT, MPT, OCS, COMT Magee Rehabilitation Hospital
Peter F. DeLuca, M.D. Head Team Physician for Eagles, Head Orthopedic Surgeon for Flyers; Rothman Institute
Brittany Everett Owner, Grace & Glory Yoga Fishtown
Joel H. Fish, Ph.D. Director of The Center For Sport Psychology; Sports Psychology Consultant for 76ers & Flyers
R. Robert Franks, D.O. Team Physician for USA Wrestling, Consultant for Phillies; Rothman Institute
Ashley B. Greenblatt, ACE-CPT Certified Personal Trainer, The Sporting Club at The Bellevue
Jon Herting, PT, DPT, CSCS, HFS, USAW Physical Therapist, Partner at The Training Room
Eugene Hong, MD, CAQSM, FAAFP Team Physician for Drexel, Philadelphia Univ., Saint Joe’s, & U.S. Lacrosse
Brian Maher, BS, CSCS Owner, Philly Personal Training
Julia Mayberry, M.D. Attending Hand & Upper Extremity Surgeon, Main Line Hand Surgery P.C.
Gavin McKay, NASM-CPT Founder/Franchisor, Unite Fitness
Heather Moore, PT, DPT, CKTP Owner of Total Performance Physical Therapy, North Wales and Hatfield, PA
Justin Shaginaw, MPT, ATC Athletic Trainer for US Soccer Federation; Aria 3B Orthopaedic Institute
Thomas Trojian MD, CAQSM, FACSM Chief of the Division of Sports Medicine at Drexel University
Robyn Weisman, ACE-CPT B.S., Exercise Science & Physiology, Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness and Lifestyle Coach
Sarah M. Whitman, MD Sports Psychiatrist; Clinical Assistant Professor, Drexel University College of Medicine
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