It's OK, You Can Play When It's Cold Outside

Is performance decreased in the cold? Exercise in cold air does not seem to have any affect on performance. Actually, for some endurance situations, working in the cold is better because the body doesn't have to work as hard at ridding itself of heat.

What is wind chill? The wind chill index represents a rate of cooling on exposed skin. The greater the wind chill, the faster the exposed skin will cool. For most people, the only place wind chill is felt is the face, as the rest of the body is covered. Most wind chill charts show little danger when the air temperature is 20 degrees F or greater.

Danger zones begin when the wind-chill index is minus 20 degrees or less. In the Southeast, we have little concern for this; our New England or Great Lakes relatives, on the other hand, do. The legendary 1967 "Ice Bowl" football game in Green Bay was played in wind chills of around minus-50 degrees.

If the temperature is above freezing, wind chill is not an issue regardless of what the weather forecaster says. If it is 40 degrees F outside with a wind chill of 20 degrees F, water will not freeze, neither will your skin.

What about hypothermia and frostbite? Hypothermia is a condition when the core temperature is 95 degrees F or less: a medical emergency. Frostbite is when the skin freezes. There is the threat of frostbite when the air temperature is 0 degrees F and a wind speed of 10 mph or greater. For flesh to freeze in one minute, the conditions need to be very severe like minus 43 degrees F with a 10 mph wind.

What affects our tolerance to cold? One factor is body surface area to weight ratio. The smaller person requires more heat to maintain temperature than a large person. Fat is a natural insulator. Young adults are more tolerant of cold than older adults, but children are less tolerant of cold than adults. Fit people are more tolerant of the cold.

Who is better in the cold men or women? If all factors are equal--body surface area/weight ratio, age, fitness, body fat levels, energy expenditure--there is little difference between men and women for skin and core body temperatures.

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