SOUND MIND, SOUND BODY: In icy winter workouts, preparation pays

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Your alarm goes off at 5 a.m. for your morning run, you get out of bed and check the weather: it is 20 degrees.

You are tempted to crawl back in bed and avoid the chilly temperature outside, but then you remember that half-marathon you registered for.

Can you safely continue to exercise outside when the temperatures dip low? Absolutely, if you follow a few tips for exercising in the cold.

Before you even step foot outside you need to dress for the cold temperatures.

Layering is an effective technique for keeping warm. The goal in dressing for the cold is to keep the core of the body warm, which keeps the internal organs warm and protected.

Clothing is typically a good insulator, but it can also trap water, in the form of sweat, which will conduct heat away from the body. Keep this information in mind when selecting clothing: You want something that will trap the air and allow the sweat to pass through.

Dressing in layers also allows you to start out warm. As you start to sweat, you can peel off outer layers and put them back on as needed. The first layer should be something that is form fitting that will wick the sweat away from your body.

Avoid cotton because it just soaks up the sweat and stays wet against your skin. You may need to experiment with different types clothing to find what will work best for you.

The next step is to focus on your head, hands and feet. Since most of your blood flow is going to be concentrated in your body's core, this reduces the amount of blood flowing to your hands and feet. For your hands, try wearing a pair of thin gloves underneath a pair of heavier gloves (if it is really cold outside).

Be sure to put your gloves on before your hands get cold and take them off if your hands start to sweat. For your feet you can try wearing two pairs of socks. To protect your head, don't forget a hat or a headband that covers your ears.

Another factor to consider is the need to stay hydrated throughout the winter. You need to be just as hydrated during the winter as you are during the summer. Even when it's cold outside you can become dehydrated from sweating, although it may not seem as noticeable during the cold weather.

The winter months offer a variety of outdoor activities to participate in -- skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, or just maintaining your regular fitness schedule.

By taking proper precautions and monitoring how your body feels you can continue to exercise safely in the chilly weather.

Valerie Rankin has been working in the fitness industry since 1998. She has a bachelor's degree in health education and fitness promotion. Currently, she is the group exercise director at the Walla Walla YMCA where she manages and instructs fitness classes.

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