Sports Injury Prevention & Evaluation

Sports and Exercise in the Heat and Cold

Don't let the heat or cold keep you from doing what you love.

By following some simple precautions, you can be active outdoors in nearly any weather.

When It's Cold

With the right clothing and sound judgement, you can keep running or exercising outside even when it’s 20 below. Be sure you know your personal limits and the signs and symptoms of cold exposure problems to keep yourself safe. Your body can better handle cold temperatures if you stay hydrated, eat right and avoid alcohol. Certain medications, and health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease can also affect your ability to safely exercise outside when it’s cold. Your doctor can help you better understand your health situation.

Common Situations Caused by Cold Exposure

  • Shivering is usually the first sign of dangerous cold exposure. As your body is trying to generate its own heat you’ll develop uncontrolled muscle contractions. This shivering should be your first warning to seek shelter and warm up your core temperature.
  • Frostbite occurs when the superficial tissues of your face, ears, fingers and toes freeze. Signs include pain, burning, numbness, and tingling, and your skin turning hard and white, starting to peel or get blisters, and to itch and become firm, shiny and grayish-yellow. If you have frostbite, quickly get to a warm, dry place and remove any constrictive clothing. Elevate the affected areas if possible, and apply warm, moist compresses to these areas. Don’t rub frostbitten areas or apply direct heat.
  • Hypothermia is a significant drop in your core body temperature, and is a serious medical condition. Signs include shivering, feeling cold, goose bumps, confusion, numbness, a lack of coordination, sluggishness, difficulty speaking, stumbling, depression, muscle stiffness, slurred speech, trouble seeing, and unconsciousness. At the first sign of hypothermia quickly move the victim to a dry, warm place or use blankets, extra dry clothing or your own body heat to warm them.

Follow These Tips to Protect Yourself in the Cold:

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration affects your body's ability to regulate body heat and increases the risk of frostbite. Fluids, especially water, are as important in cold weather as in the heat. Avoid consuming alcohol or beverages containing caffeine, because these items are dehydrating.

Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol dilates blood vessels and increases heat loss increasing the odds of experiencing a hypothermic event. Alcohol can also impair judgment to the extent that you may not make the best decisions in a cold weather emergency. It's best to leave the alcohol behind when you head out into the cold.

Layer Clothing

Several thin layers are warmer than one heavy layer. Layers are also easier to add or remove and therefore better regulate your core temperature. The goal is to keep your body warm while minimizing sweating and avoiding shivering. 

A combination of three layers is best to prevent heat loss. Your innermost layer should consist of polyester fabric that wicks away moisture from your body. Avoid cotton since it absorbs sweat and could keep your body wet. Your second layer can be thin or heavy depending on the climate and your choice of exercise. Fleece, down, wool or synthetic fabrics make good second layers that can be put on or removed as needed. Finally, your outermost layer should be a windproof and waterproof shell. Nylon fabrics such as Gore-Tex and similar materials are sufficiently breathable but repel wind and water.

Avoid Overdressing

Running and other forms of strenuous outdoor exercise can make you feel 20-30 degrees warmer. Overdressing can lead to more sweating than the appropriate amount layers would generate, and that sweating can cause your body to become wet and cold. In general, if you’re dressed appropriately, you’ll feel slightly cold when you start to exercise.

Stay Dry

Wet, damp clothing, whether from perspiration or precipitation, significantly increases body-heat loss.

Protect Your Head and Extremities

It’s important to protect your head, hands and feet. To minimize heat loss, your body decreases blood flow to your hands and feet. Wearing gloves or mittens on your hands and a pair of warm, moisture-wicking socks on your feet will usually protect your extremities. Wearing a hat can significantly decrease the large percentage of body heat that’s normally lost from the head.

Cover Your Mouth

To warm the air before you breathe it, use a scarf or mask. This especially important if breathing cold air causes angina (chest pain) or you’re prone to upper respiratory problems.

Sunglasses and Sunscreen

Snow and ice can reflect a tremendous amount of sunlight. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes against the light and glare. Wearing sunscreen on your face and using lip balm with sunscreen is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer.


To decrease the chance of slipping and suffering an injury, wearing appropriate shoes in snowy or slippery conditions is critical. Shoes with studs or prominent tread can help on trails or slick roads and sidewalks. Check your shoes for excessive wear and change to newer shoes if your current ones are worn out.

Run Into the Wind

Experts recommend that you run into the wind at the beginning of a run. Sweat production increases as exercise continues, and this cold air flowing over sweaty clothes can feel extremely cold. Ending your run with the wind at your back will help reduce this sensation.


Proper nutrition helps regulate your core temperature, keeps your body warm and provides enough fuel for your working muscles. In warm weather it's easy to sweat to regulate your temperature and remove excess heat, but in cold weather you need to generate more heat to stay warm. When it comes to eating during cold weather exercise, warm foods that are complex carbohydrates are ideal. It's also important to eat continually to replace carbohydrate stores that are being used for exercise and warming.

When It's Hot

If you’re exercising or playing a sport when it’s hot outside, watch for the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.

If you develop any of these symptoms, you must lower your body temperature and get hydrated. Stop exercising immediately and get out of the heat. If possible, have someone stay with you who can help monitor your condition. Remove extra clothing or sports equipment. Drink fluids – water or a sports drink. If possible, fan your body or wet yourself down with cool water. If you don't feel better within 30 minutes, contact your doctor. If you have signs of heatstroke, seek immediate medical help.

Follow These Tips to Protect Yourself in the Heat:

Watch the Temperature

Pay attention to weather forecasts and heat alerts. Know what the temperature is expected to be for the duration of your planned outdoor activity.

Get Acclimated

If you're used to exercising indoors or in cooler weather, take it easy at first when you exercise in the heat. As your body adapts to the heat over the course of one to two weeks, gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts.

Know Your Fitness Level

If you're unfit or new to exercise, be extra cautious when working out in the heat. Your body may have a lower tolerance to the heat. Reduce your exercise intensity and take frequent breaks.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Dehydration is a key factor in heat illness. Help your body sweat and cool down by staying well hydrated with water. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. If you plan to exercise intensely or for longer than one hour, consider a sports drink instead of water. Sports drinks can replace the sodium, chloride and potassium you lose through sweating. Avoid alcoholic drinks because they can actually promote fluid loss.

Dress Appropriately

Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing helps sweat evaporate and keeps you cooler. Avoid dark colors, which can absorb heat. If possible, wear a light-colored, wide-brimmed hat.

Avoid Midday Sun

Exercise in the morning or evening, when it's likely to be cooler outdoors. If possible, exercise in shady areas, or do a water workout in a pool.

Wear Sunscreen

Sunburn makes it more difficult for your body to cool itself.

Have a Backup Plan

If you're concerned about the heat or humidity, stay indoors. Work out at the gym, walk laps inside the mall or climb stairs in an air-conditioned building.

Understand Your Medical Risks

Certain medical conditions or medications can increase your risk of a heat-related illness. If you plan to exercise in the heat, talk to your doctor about precautions.

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