Expert: Intense Cold-Weather Exercises Can Stress the Lungs

Expert: Intense Cold-Weather Exercises Can Stress the Lungs

  • Research shows that vigorous exercise in freezing temperatures can damage your lungs. 
  • A lot of dry, cold air can cause temporary symptoms like a sore throat, runny nose, and cough.
  • An expert suggests that you get more intense, wear a mask and not come in too fast. 

For winter sports such as snowshoeing and skiing, colder temperatures are ideal. However, if temperatures fall below 30 degrees it is time to reduce the intensity. Michael KennedyProfessor of kinesiology, sports, and recreation at University of Alberta 

Breathing in dry, cold air can cause symptoms such as a sore throat and coughing. Kennedy’s research suggests. 

“The lung is really a unique organ in the body because it’s open to the air. There’s nothing preventing the environment from getting in there,”He told Insider. 

He advised that you avoid extreme exercise in cold temperatures, use a mask and let your lungs adjust before returning inside. 

Cold weather exercise can cause wheezing and coughing.

When lungs are exposed to cold, it’s normal to experience coughing before and after exercising, wheezing (a feeling of constriction in the lungs), sore throat, runny nose, and a phlegmy cough.

When exercising vigorously outdoors, symptoms can develop in healthy individuals that may be similar to those you might experience with a cold. 

Kennedy stated that you can tell the difference between exercise-induced and more serious illnesses by looking out for signs such as fever, body aches, fatigue, and discomfort.

Kennedy explained that workout-related wheezing or coughing will generally disappear over the next 24 hours. But, it can still be inducible after a brief bout of exercise outdoors if it’s cold enough.

“Even 30 minutes is quite a challenging stressful event for your lungs. If you’re going to chose to go out, you have to reduce the intensity so you’ll stress your lungs significantly less,”He said. 

Don’t rush back into warmth — it can worsen the damage

Kennedy says that while it may be tempting to get inside right away after a cold workout, warm air can actually worsen your lung symptoms. Humidification becomes more difficult when the air temperature rises. Warm air can dry out your already parched lungs and airway, especially if it’s still being hampered by heavy breathing.

“If you take a really stressed-out lung that’s dehydrated and bring it into warm air, you’re basically multiplying the effect of what happened in the cold air,” Kennedy said. 

You can also allow your breathing rate to return to normal so that your lungs can heal before you introduce warmer temperatures.  

Protect your lungs against dry, cold air by wearing a scarf or mask

Avoid cold damage to your lungs by staying indoors and exercising less when temperatures drop below 5 degrees. 

Kennedy stated that a face covering could also be helpful in mitigating some of the damage. 

Although surgical-style masks are effective in preventing viral particles, they don’t protect against dry air. They tend to get too moist too quickly when you breathe heavily. 

A scarf, neck gaiter or mask made of thicker performance fabric can create warm, moist air around your mouth.

“Wearing a mask likely pays dividends for alleviating some of the symptoms,” Kennedy said. 

Some places may be better off taking precautions, such as wearing a mask or exercising less often before winter chill sets in. 

Dry air can be a source of irritation for the lung at milder temperatures in high elevation mountain regions or very dry climates, according to Kennedy. 

“Even in the fall temperatures, dryness can be an issue,”He said. “If you’re putting on more hand lotion or chapstick, that dryness can be affecting the lungs, too.”

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