Keep up with exercise as days shorten, weather cools

Shorter days and cooler temperatures are no excuse for your sneakers or bike to collect dust.

Fall and winter provide a welcome respite from scorching temperatures — if you can pry yourself off that toasty, comfy couch.

“A lot of people freak out about it and see all these barriers,” Chris Clark, a longtime cyclist and president of the Baton Rouge Bicycle Club, says of working out in cooler weather. “It’s a great time to get out there and exercise when you’re not going to feel like you’re going to die from heat exhaustion.”

But working out regularly when the temperatures drop below the 50s takes preparation.

Follow these tips from local fitness experts to stay safe and comfortable when the mercury dips:

Layer up

That first chilly step out the door on a cold morning can send you back to grab a coat. Don’t make that mistake.

Layering thin clothes atop one another allows you to peel off a layer as you warm up after a few minutes of walking, running or bicycling, says Emanuel Andrews III, a trainer at LSU and the YMCA of the Capital Area.

It’s best to feel a little chilly during the first few minutes of the workout.

“When you actually go outdoors in cold weather, you should not be hot,” Andrews said. “Then you heat up too much and then you’ll be taking layers off and sweating and then you risk hypothermia.”

When planning your workout outfit, go for moisture-wicking materials made from polyester blends. They draw sweat away from the skin, which speeds evaporation and helps to maintain a healthy body temperature, Andrews says.

For cycling, wear a windproof outer layer, Clark advises. Because cyclists regularly ride from 12 to 25 mph, the wind chill will seem colder on a bike.

“With the cold it’s really going to stink,” he says.

Loosen up

Bones and muscles really feel cold, damp air. But take it easy with the stretches.

Today, trainers recommend replacing traditional, stationary stretching with dynamic warm-ups, like jumping jacks, jogging in place or skipping.

“I usually have my clients perform eight to 10 exercises that are sport-specific,” Andrews says, “and then progress from a lower to higher intensity and try to have them at least try and break a sweat.”

Crank up the carbs

Carbohydrates can keep you warm. Before you acclimatize to the cold, the body will tremble and shiver to maintain its heat, Andrews says.

“You’re shivering and it may not be noticeable to a person who is jogging, but if you ever come to a stop, it may be just in your hands or your arms, but you’re shivering,” he says. “If you’re sitting still it’s more noticeable.”

To shiver, the body needs carbohydrates.

“Those muscular contractions are primarily powered by carbohydrates, and carbs are not plentiful as far as resources to use for energy,” Andrews says.

So stock up on pastas, breads, bananas and sports drinks during cold weather.

Drink up

In south Louisiana, most active people know the ins and outs of hydration. In cold weather you need less water, but don’t cut it out entirely.

“You’re not sweating as much, so you’re not losing as much water to replace,” Clark says. “You still want to have water.”

Everyone sweats a different amount when exercising. Andrews studied active men and women during an internship with Gatorade and found some people lose a cup or two of fluid during a workout. Others lose liters. Know which type you are.

Pay attention

The most important advice, Andrews says, is to know how your own body will react to colder conditions and to watch weather forecasts.

Start “playing around and seeing what works best,” he says. “Know what the conditions are well ahead of time and what they can possibly become. Louisiana weather, it can be warm and then an hour later, a front comes through.”