Other than the Seattle snowstorm, I went this entire winter wearing at most a long sleeve shirt. On most days, even those that got into the low 30s, I remained in a short sleeved shirt. What did I learn?
- The body is fully capable of acclimating to cold temperatures. The first few minutes are always the worst.
- My hands never got used to the cold and would get numb in cold weather. Wearing gloves or putting them in my pockets was essential.
- Movement is very important. The body does not appreciate standing still in cold weather. Even a slow walk is enough to keep warm or at the least, not be painfully cold.
- Respect the wind. It will chill you to the bone faster than cold temperatures. Limit exposure on windy days.
Well summer is over and the temperatures have dropped. I am challenging you to go this winter with one less layer than you did last winter. You don’t need to be as extreme as me. I also understand that an Ohio winter is a meaner beast than a Seattle winter. One less layer is worthy goal for all. Why on Earth would anyone consciously expose themselves to cold weather? Let me list the reasons in order of importance.
- Expand Comfort Zone (aka Toughen up) – After living 7 years in Southern California, I got soft. If the temperature got into the mid 60s, I would get cold and reach for a layer. When I was exposed to really cold temperatures on ski trips, I was beyond miserable. I had a 20 degree comfort zone (67 – 87 Fahrenheit). Last year’s cold weather training expanded my comfort zone 30 degrees. If the temperature were to ever drop to 20 in Seattle, I know that a single flannel shirt would be enough for me.
- Learn How to Deal With Minor Stresses – This was an idea I got from evolutionary fitness guru Art De Vany. If you periodically expose yourself to minor stresses, the body will be more adapt to deal with major stresses later in life (strokes, heart attacks). Having short term exposure to cold temperature is a minor stress. The body must adapt. Like any system that has forced adaptations, it becomes more resilient. Varying exercise and caloric intake are the most common examples of forcing adaptations on the body. Temperature is another method.
- Activate BAT (Brown Adipose Tissue) – Some of you may have forgotten, but two medical studies came out in the spring confirming what some fitness people suspected all along: cold weather exposure can trigger the activation of BAT. BAT generates heat (burns calories) without producing free radicals. In other words, you get leaner without altering your diet or exercise.
- Improve Immune System – When exposed to cold weather, the body releases cytokins, which are hormone like substances that trigger other hormones that boost immune function.
- Economic – This is a minor point, but I thought I’d share it anyway. Short sleeve shirts are cheaper than long sleeve shirts. Jackets are cheaper than coats. Less layers means you spend less on clothes and laundry.
- Relieve Muscle Soreness – This one works better in the shower. At the end of your shower, especially on the days you lift weights, do a few minutes of a cold water rinse. I’ve talked to a trainer who used this method with many clients and himself. This works by improving circulation. The cold water exposure sends the blood back to protect the organs and then when the cold water exposure is removed, the blood goes back to the muscle. Since I don’t do high-rep training (and thus rarely get sore), I can not speak to how effective this technique is. I have, however, been using a cold water rinse in the shower for 6 months now and have had no muscle soreness.
Snow Stairs by MAS
I’ve given you 6 reasons to wear one less layer this winter. Some final thoughts on cold weather exposure.
- Men will have an advantage, due to more lean muscle mass.
- Weight lifting will increase UCP3 (uncoupling protein), which generates heat. Steady state cardio suppresses UCP3. Lift weights to stay warm.
- Move. Standing still in cold weather doesn’t fit with our evolutionary model. A brisk walk or hike is enough to stay warm.
- Respect the Wind. If it is windy, shorten your length of exposure.
I hope you take my challenge and report back your results in the spring. Good luck.