How cold temperatures affect exercise

People who enjoy training outside during the winter should be aware of the effects that the cold can have on their lungs, according to a University of Alberta. Let’s see how cold temperatures affect exercise.

“If it’s a very cold day in February, a high-intensity run or other sport activities outside can affect your life,” says Michael Kennedy. As he explained, cold temperatures make it more difficult for the lungs to warm and humidify the air. This causes dryness in the overlap of the airways which, in some cases, causes irreparable damage.

“The inflammatory response may be so great that the lungs will never regain their old health,” he mentions, “They are basically remodeling.”

Kennedy says that for the most part there is still a general acceptance that it’s fine to ski at -15 or -20 degrees Celsius. “This isn’t okay,” he however argues. “We studied a number of high-level skiers who now have a chronic cough and severely reduced lung function after retirement.”

The number of athletes who exercise in the cold with consequent asthma can be underestimated, according to the expert. Recently, his team discovered that the laboratory test for predicting asthma due to exercise in the cold air isn’t as accurate as the actual analysis of the athletes.

How cold temperatures affect exercise

How did the idea for the study come about?

The idea for the study came from research conducted before the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Where researchers examined about 40 American winter athletes.

Kennedy states that 40-50% of all Scandinavians or winter athletes reported some form of asthma caused by exercise (bronchoconstriction) due to exercise in cold temperatures.

According to the study, athletes who exercised in temperatures below -15 ° C, put their lungs at risk of severe pulmonary contraction and possible injury. Five out of the 16 participants had positive results for possible bronchoconstriction. Induced by exercise during the laboratory test, while seven had positive results during the cold air test.

The lungs work against other parts of the body, such as the heart, which, Kennedy says, responds to stressful situations. “When the lungs are exposed to a stressful environment, such as cold, they don’t reshape appropriately. And the function of the lungs deteriorates over time – especially during exercise.”

What to watch out for

Kennedy mentions one conclusion from a previous study was, that people with lower stamina were more vulnerable. He also says that for those who are determined to exercise in the cold. It’s a good idea to do an internal warm-up. This is to dilate their lungs, which reduces the negative influence of cold air.

Research has shown that a closed mouth has a significant effect on reducing bronchoconstriction due to cold air. As temperatures drop, the intensity should decrease, at least initially, which will give the lungs time to warm up and humidify the air.


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