Dressing for exercise: the weather calls the fashion

Deciding what to wear to school, a winter dance, or getting together with friends is sometimes difficult. But deciding what to wear when exercising outdoors requires even more thought. It’s smart to dress for outdoor activities and to know the advantages and disadvantages of some ot the newer clothing materials. Understanding the extreme effects of temperature on your body and good common sense all go into making an intelligent decision.

Fending Off Windchill

Winter exercise is, most likely, outdoor exercise: Ice skating, crosscountry skiing, snowmobiling, even jogging–all are wonderful in winter. Inappropriate dressing might result in frostile and respiratory problems, winter woes nobody goes looking for. Frostbite may occur when circulation to outer layers of exposed skin is reduced, due to prolonged exposure to the cold. The temperature of skin and extremities may fall to dangerous levels. Early warning signs of damage to your skin include a tingling and numbness in your fingers and toes, or a burning sensation to your nose and ears. If you do not recognize these signs, overexposure can lead to tissue damage and, possibly, frosbite.

The possibility of frostbite is higher on cold, windy days. It is important to refer to a windchill index. If it’s dangerously low, you know that you should cover all exposed areas or stay inside. Mittens, high socks, and a ski mask are a must on days when frostbite might be a factor. But no matter how appropriately you are dressed, prolonged exposure to frigid temperatures can be dangerous. Remember, too, that many activities create their own windchill factor, such asjogging, skiing, and ice skating. There may be no wind whatsoever, but if you jog at 6 mph, you are joggingagainst 6 mph wind.

Inhaling cold air itself does not pose a special danger to the respiratory system. Even in extremely low temperature, incoming air is warmed enough before it reaches the lungs. This is important, because warm air hlds misture, and warm, moist air is necessary to decrease your chance of respiratory problems. Warning signs that let you know that the air entering your lungs is too dry and cold include a dry mouth, a burning sensation in the throat, and irritation of the respiratory passages. These sympthoms can be reduced by wearing a mask or a scarf that covers your nose and mouth. When you wear something over your nose and mouth, the trapped air is warmed and moistened.

Staying Warm

When the temperature drops, it is important to insulate your body from its surroundings to prevent heat loss. In choosing the best cold weather clothing, understanding some of the principles of insulation can help. Clothing insulates when the mesh of the cloth fibers traps air that then becomes warm. It is important to understand that cloth and air hold heat. This is the reason that several layers of light clothing or sportswear lined with animal hair (wool), feathers (down), or synthetic fabrics are a better insulator than a single layer of bulky winter clothing. Another important principle of insulation to understand is that 30 percent to 40 percent of your body heat can be lost through you head, much like the heat going up a fireplace. A wool cap will greatly reduce this heat loss.

Something else to consider when choosing cold weather exercise clothing is perspiration. This is important, because when clothing becomes wet, it loses almost 90 percent of its insulating properties. It can even cool your body at a faster rate than the cold air outside.

The very best winter sportswear is a material that does not allow air in, but lets moisture from perspiration escape. Cross-country skiers, for example, would see clothing made from this material and would remove the outer layers as their body became warmer. While skiing, skiers might remove their jacket as their core body temperature increase. The layers of clothing under the jacket would allow excess heat and moisture to get out yet keep them warm. Once again, common sense is your best defense when the wind starts blowing and the temperature plummets.

The Other Extreme

Exercising during hot weather requires every bit as much attention as does exercising in the cold. Not being aware of proper exercise procedure could result in serious heat illness, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Dress could be a contributing factor to these ilnesses. Any kind of clothing that slows the evaporation of perpiration is potentially dangerous. When your body is overheated, an imbalance of body chemicals, especially salt, can occur, and a dangerously high body temperature may follow. These can be very dangerous, and you should take precautions to prevent them. A hot weather exerciser must be sure to drink lots kf fluids. Keep a watch on body temperature, and dress appropriately.


Ideally, material used for hot weather exercising should be loosefitting. The permits free circulation of the air and promotes water movement away from the skin. Light colors are the best choice because they reflect heat rays, while dark colors absorb heat. Heavy sweatshirts and clothing made of rubber or plastic may prevent perspiration from evaporating and cooling the body; this can be very dangerous. Athletes sometimes wonder if they should change into dry clothing when their exercise clothing becomes wet. This is not a good idea, because dry clothing slows down the cooling of the body.

Dressing for exercise doesn’t have to be dull, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. you might come up with some unlikely combinations, especially in the winter when you’re wearing layers. But when it comes to exercise clothing, it’s cool to be cool–and cool to be warm.