Is It Ever Too Cold To Go Hiking?
Thursday, March 6, 2008
My personal preference for hiking, and exercise in general, is “the colder, the better”. However, most people I know avoid outdoor activity when they feel it is too cold, and think it strange that anyone would want to go hiking in the middle of winter. So is there any truth in the belief that it can be too cold for exercise?
I found some enlightenment recently in a New York Times article titled “Too Cold to Exercise? Try Another Excuse“, in which some cold weather exercise myths are dispelled by experts. Some relevant points from the article are:
- Lungs are not damaged by cold - by the time cold air reaches your lungs, it is at body temperature
- Cold air does not induce asthma - airways narrow in response to the dryness of the air, not its temperature
- Our bodies do not need to acclimatize to cold, as they do to heat
- Unfitness is not an obstacle to coping with cold - the physically fit are no better at adaptating to cold than the sedentary
- More people are injured exercising in the heat than exercising in the cold
The concensus among the doctors and exercise physiologists interviewed was that it is never too cold to exercise. Cold-weather risks like hypothermia and frostbite can be avoided with appropriate clothing and common sense. Ironically this includes not overdressing - sweat soaked clothes can lead to chilling. As children are taught in Sweden: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing“.
My own experiences affirm this. The middle of winter is my favourite time for hiking the Bibbulmun Track, in shorts and T-shirt regardless of how cold it is (I just rug up at night). I’ve hiked happily in New Zealand’s south island in winter, been camping in -10 degrees in Australia, and enjoyed winter walks in the Canadian winter in temperatures below -20 (with wind). By dressing appropriately I’ve done all this in much greater comfort than any walk on a hot day.
Eskimos have lived safely with cold for millenia, and numerous explorers and researchers have survived outdoors in Antarctic winters. The temptation to avoid exercise on chilly days in more temperate climates probably has more to do with comfort, convenience and personal taste than safety. I’ll certainly be continuing my winter outdoor activities, reassured that it really is never too cold to exercise.