Because I ride my bike almost daily here in Chicago, a four season city, I have a lot of experience with exercising out in the cold. Nonetheless, I had an experience today in 35F degree weather that was actually startling. Although I was riding my bike, I think what happened to me could happen to anyone whether running, cross country skiing, or anything else out of doors.
In order to exercise outside in most weather, I keep notes on what I wear in various combinations of temperature, humidity, wind, sunshine, rain.
The temperature reading I got this morning was 25F. This calls for two pair of long johns, wool sox, four layers on top, covered by a vented windbreaker. On my hands I wear thinsulate-lined convertible glove mitts. One of the basic principles is that you expose as little bare flesh as possible.
I had to walk the dog and fix breakfast before I got out on the bike. By the time I did, the temperature had risen to 35F on my cycling computer and there was a good sun. I was feeling really good after about 40 minutes and decided that I would prefer to wear my thin gloves with the fingerless cycling gloves on top. They are more comfortable on the bike with their thicker palm padding. So I stopped the bike and put away the glove mitts and switched to the thinner ones.
After about five minutes of riding I detected the cold air the gloves and chilling my fingers. This had not been the case with the glove mitts. I made a mental note that this combination of thin gloves and cycling gloves was not appropriate for 35F degree weather. But, I didn’t stop and switch back. I continued riding.
Here’s where the discovery took place. After about 20 more minutes of riding, my hands had grown chilled – to the point where it felt uncomfortable. In another five to 10 minutes, I could feel that not only my fingers and hands were chilled, but my wrists and forearms had begun to feel cold, too. As I rode now, I was getting the impression that I was too cold to continue even though I had been out close to an hour already in relative comfort.
I stopped the bike and switched back to the warm glove mitts. Here’s the part that amazed me. My fingers and hands responded immediately to the new protection and felt comfortable. In another five minutes my arms had warmed up and I was no longer feeling cold and had no desire to cut the ride any more.
Previously I had known that I needed all my skin areas to be covered up or the air would make me cold, but in this instance, the skin on my hands remained covered, just not as much as previously. Apparently that was enough to signal my body that I needed more protection.
So, my conclusion is that you need to be aware that you are covered and adequately covered. When I changed gloves the first time, my fingers and hands remained covered, but they were not protected fully from the cold. The interesting thing is that I use the cycling glove combo regularly for temps in the 40s F and they work perfectly.
I hope this was of some use to you in getting outside exercise in the winter. Please feel free to share any tips you may have discovered on your outside road to good health. I am convinced that dressing correctly for cold weather outside activities is as much art as science.
If you want to read more on exercising outside in cold weather check out:
Cold weather exercise tips and Cold weather cycling tips.