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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Exercise and Environment

This is Steven Petrick posting.

We finally got the first real snow of the winter this last Sunday (29 November 2009). As might be expected, things got cold. Still late that night I realized that I had not done my daily walk. (SVC and I are on a new regime where we walk at least some small distance each day to build up his stamina.)

As it is agreed that we will do this, I have to make a special effort to be "good", that is to actually perform the exercise no matter what the conditions are.

The conditions in this case were 27° Fahrenheit with a slight breeze.

One would think that this would be cause for bundling up, but as the distance was short (twice around the block), I could not be bothered. So confirming all the worst thoughts SVC has about me, I struck out in shorts, T-shirt, socks, running shoes, key to the apartment, and black BDU cap.

I know what cold is, and am quite aware that one of the effects of cold temperatures is a partial suppression of the immune system. Being "cold" does not cause you to catch a "cold", but if you encounter the disease, you are more susceptible to it, thus the correlation in most people's minds with cold causing colds. But the things that cause colds are always around looking for an opening, and thus you can catch a "cold" in the middle of the summer.

I also very much tend to see cold as something to be managed. This does mean that there are dangers. For example, if I lost the key and could not access my apartment, I could be in serious jeopardy. The management comes in that ultimately prolonged exposure to cold will eventually start drawing the heat out of the core of my system. Motion, that is to say the burning of fuel (i.e., exercise) can delay this, but without added layers of clothing to trap that heat it will only delay the inevitable. That again goes to managing the situation. Most Americans tend to "overdress", and that becomes a habit without thinking, and in an emergency it can get you killed. If you are dressed too warmly, and start exercising, your warm clothes will cause you to perspire, which in turn will soak your warm clothing, and then freeze, defeating the purpose of the warm clothing.

Thus the management of my personal environment, i.e., I need to be dressed well enough to ward off the cold, but not so well that I will perspire in my clothing. In the field, it is a constant battle, and some of the best clothing you can have is a hat (most heat loss is through the top of your head), a scarf, and a pair of insulated shoes. Those won't keep you alive in the Arctic, but they will help you to retain your core body temperature longer than if you lacked them, and the chances of perspiration soaking your clothing while engaged in exercise is greatly reduced.