Temperature and Your Walking Routine

By Erin Palinski-Wade

If you stick with an outdoor walking workout over a period of months, you’ll no doubt come into contact with many shifts in temperature and weather patterns. At times, extreme weather like thunderstorms, damaging winds, or very high or very low temperatures may keep you indoors.

Accounting for cool weather during your walking workout

No matter how motivated you may be to walk and to lose weight, cold weather can be discouraging. But that doesn’t mean a dip in the thermometer should put an end to your workout.

Almost everyone can exercise safely in cold weather; however, if you have respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), have a heart condition, or suffer from Raynaud’s disease, it’s best to consult your physician before venturing outdoors. These conditions may require you to take special precautions to ensure you stay safe.

Before heading out, check the weather forecast. Don’t just look at the temperature, but also pay attention to the wind chill, any expected precipitation, and the length of time you plan to be outside, as all of these factors play a role in having a safe cold‐weather workout.

For instance, if the wind is extreme, even if you dress warmly you may be at an increased risk for frostbite thanks to the wind penetrating your clothes and removing the warm air that can surround your body and insulate it. Or if the forecast calls for rain or snow, wearing waterproof clothing is essential, as you become more vulnerable to the cold when you are wet.

Pay attention to your body and listen to what it tells you when exercising in cold weather. If you begin to feel too cold, your skin starts to feel chapped or irritated, or you feel as though you are having difficulty breathing correctly due to the cold, head indoors. Always make sure to let someone know that you’re heading outside to walk, where you are walking, and when you plan to be back, so that person can be on the lookout for you in case something does go wrong along the way.

Taking cool weather precautions

When walking in cool weather, you need to be extra careful to take care of your body and your skin.

Frostbite is a major concern when the temperature drops, but sunburn and even dehydration can occur in cold weather workouts as well. Taking a few simple precautions can ensure a healthy and happy cool weather workout.

  • Be on the lookout for signs of frostbite.

  • Know the signs of hypothermia.

  • Stay well hydrated.

  • Dress in layers.

  • Protect your skin from the sun.

Adjusting your workout in hot weather

As the weather warms up and the sun shines down, you may be more motivated to get outdoors and walk. Walking in warmer weather can be a great way to stay active, but as the weather heats up, your workout can be impacted.

Exercising in elevated temperatures can place an increased amount of stress on your body. The combination of the air temperature along with exercise itself elevates your body’s core temperature. If your body’s temperature rises too high, you can experience serious health conditions. As your temperature rises, your body sends more blood to circulate through your skin to help cool you. However, when this occurs, less blood is available to your muscles, and your heart rate starts to increase.

Humid weather, which often comes hand in hand with hot weather conditions, can increase the risk of an excessive rise in your body’s core temperature. When humidity is high, sweat doesn’t evaporate from your skin as quickly. Sweat evaporation is your body’s main way of cooling itself. When this is impaired, your temperature can rise even higher.

However, just because the weather is warming up doesn’t mean you have to stop walking outdoors. Taking precautions for warm weather workouts and listening to your body are key to safely walking in warmer conditions. Knowing the signs and symptoms of overheating, making sure you stay hydrated, and dressing appropriately all help to make your walking workout a safe one.

Taking hot weather precautions

When you are exposed to high temperatures and/or high humidity for long periods of time or you sweat too long without taking in enough fluids, your body’s normal cooling system can start to fail. This failure to cool can result in heat‐related illnesses, which can range from mild to deadly if left untreated.

Everything from painful muscle cramps to lightheadedness and fainting to heatstroke (a life‐threatening condition where your body temperature rises to greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit and requires immediate medical treatment) can all result when exercising in hot conditions.

Understanding the precautions to take when exercising in warm weather as well as the signs, symptoms, and treatments for heat‐related illness can help keep you safe and healthy when walking in warmer climates.

  • Know the temperature.

  • Know your abilities and fitness level.

  • Watch the time you work out.

  • Dress appropriately.

  • Stay hydrated.

  • Wear sunscreen.

  • Know the signs and symptoms of heat‐related illness. The most common signs and symptoms include the following:

    • Muscle cramps

    • Headache

    • Weakness and fatigue

    • Nausea and vomiting

    • Excessive sweating

    • Dizziness, lightheadedness, and/or fainting

    • Low blood pressure

    • Rapid heart rate

    • Confusion

    • Vision problems

On hot weather days, always have a backup plan. If it’s too hot or humid to comfortably walk outdoors, consider taking your workout inside. You can go to a gym and walk on a treadmill, walk around the interior of your office building, take a walk inside the local shopping mall, or even just track and increase your steps by using a pedometer daily.