Is Jogging in the Cold Bad for You?
Jogging -- in addition to toning and strengthening your legs, improving your cardiovascular health, and lowering stress -- burns more calories than any other form of exercise -- upward of 1,000 an hour in some people. Nevertheless, even though it revs up your body's engine to an impressive extent, many exercisers have concerns that it may be harmful to jog in cold weather. While in general this is exaggerated at best, you do need to be aware of certain cold-weather hazards.
The "Frozen Lungs" Myth
The idea that running in the cold weather can damage or even freeze your lungs is persistent, but erroneous. According to Dr. Cathy Fieseler, as you breathe in cold air, it is quickly warmed to body temperature as it passes down your respiratory tract, unless the temperature is far below zero. According to The Runner's Resource website, the mucus lining the respiratory tract contributes to this warming, explaining why your nose tends to run in cold weather. Also, the lungs' unusually large blood supply guarantees their warmth.
While cold air won't do structural damage to your lungs, it can still provoke unwanted reactions in your respiratory tract. According to Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico, not only joggers but even elite athletes in cold-weather sports such as hockey, speed skating and Nordic skiing often have post-exercise bronchospasm, or constriction of the main airways to each lung. This is true in many healthy people as well as those with a formal diagnosis of exercise-induced asthma. A very gradual warm up for 15 minutes may help stave off bronchospasm.
Frostbite and Wind Burn
Although the potential dangers of very cold air to exposed skin may seem obvious, many joggers do not take adequate measures to protect themselves. On the website Running Planet, coach Rick Morris points out that some joggers are caught unaware by rapidly deteriorating conditions because they do not apprise themselves of weather forecasts before leaving the house and therefore set off underdressed. If you live in an area where conditions can change rapidly and strong, sudden wind is a factor, be sure to overdress rather than underdress to prevent skin damage, in particular to the face and fingers.
Various Winter Hazards
If you do a lot of your running in the cold, encountering certain environmental hazards is all but inevitable. Black ice has caused many a jogger to take a rough tumble, with injury to knees and elbows a typical result. If you run on snowy roads, your stride changes subtly and with every step you take you risk incurring tendinitis or other leg damage owing to the shift in your biomechanics. Consult a running-gear catalog for items that can help you avoid the pitfalls of winter running.
L.T. Davidson has been a professional writer and editor since 1994. He has been published in "Triathlete," "Men's Fitness" and "Competitor." A former elite cyclist with a Master of Science in exercise physiology from the University of Miami, Davidson is now in the broadcast news business.