Insider Info: Controlling Your Temperature

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Most outdoor enthusiasts know that the key to staying warm is staying dry. Wearing layers that can be shed or added to regulate body temperature is also nothing new, but perspiration still happens when we exert ourselves.

“When we sweat, our clothes get damp and we get cold,” says respected skier, snowshoer, and winter hiker Michael Lanza in his popular blog, “The Big Outside.” “[Staying  warm] is a matter of smartly managing and insulating our body’s furnace.”

Lanza has several tips for dealing with frigid temperatures.

Keep moving

“Any time you get cold, the single best strategy for rewarming is to start moving or increase your pace,” says Lanza. If you take a break, keep it brief – especially if you’re on an outing with small children or older adults. Infants do not have the ability to shiver to keep warm, and after age 60, our shivering response declines. Small children are less able to regulate their body temperature compared with adults, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Regardless of the person’s age or size, if they feel chilly, get that person moving.

Pace yourself

“Set a pace that keeps you warm without causing you to overheat and perspire heavily,” advises Lanza. “I try to strike a balance between producing enough heat to keep my toes and fingers warm without sweating copiously in my core, which generally has me breathing heavily but not panting.” When climbing a long hill, for example, Lanza slows down before reaching the top to stop perspiring and let his clothing dry.

Fuel up

If you’re active outdoors during the winter, munch on high-fat snacks like chocolate, cheese, and nuts. “Your body needs more fuel to keep your internal furnace burning [when it’s cold],” writes Lanza. “Fat is a slow-burning fuel that keeps your body going. Feeling chilly or fatigued can be an indicator that your body needs food.”

Here are a few other factors you might not associate with keeping your body warm outdoors:

Stay hydrated

Cold weather, which is often accompanied by lower humidity levels, dehydrates you more quickly than you realize simply through the act of breathing, said Loren Greenway, CEO of the Wilderness Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, in an interview for LiveScience.com. When you can “see your breath” in cold weather, what you’re actually seeing is the water vapor your body is losing! Add physical activity, and the need for fluids is even greater.

Check your meds

Greenway warns that drugs used to treat high blood pressure – such as alpha-blockers, beta-blockers, and direct vasodilators – can make you more sensitive to cold. Certain medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism, can too. If you take medications or have a condition that affects cold tolerance, be smart about the duration of your outdoor activities.

Skip the schnapps

Warm fluids like hot cocoa can help chase away chill, but alcohol is the worst thing to consume if you’re cold, says Greenway. Alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate, moving warm blood closer to the surface of your skin. You feel warmer temporarily, but are losing core body heat – the heat you need to survive.

Lisa Ballard is the former director of the National Skiwear Design Awards. A professional skier, she spends most of her waking hours outdoors during the winter. She warms her toes in Red Lodge, Montana. www.LisaBallardOutdoors.com