I remember a dive in the Cantabrian Sea from which I emerged with my hands so numb and insensitive from the cold that to be able to stretch my fingers I had to put my hands on the wooden side […]
I remember a dive in the Cantabrian Sea from which I emerged with my hands so numb and insensitive from the cold that to be able to stretch my fingers I had to put my hands on the wooden side of the boat and lean back.
Since then, the cold has always been one of the most limiting factors in my outdoor activities . I have been cold at sea, in the mountains, in the forest, in the tropical jungle and even in the desert, and that I am not especially cold.
We all have a different sensitivity to cold, and the risk of frostbite or hypothermia is also different depending on the sex, age or morphology of the athlete.Women, due to having a greater surface area with respect to their body mass, are more susceptible, as well as children, people over 60 years old (due to having less athletic capacity and less effective blood supply) or those under 20 years old ( in general, due to lack of technical preparation).
Athletes, with greater muscle mass and fat, are less susceptible. And cold resistance can not be trained. According to a 2020 University of Portsmouth study, controlled exposures to cold environments do not acclimate the body to withstand or prevent injury from cold temperatures. In other words, you cannot train your physiological resistance to cold.
In outdoor sports (outdoors) the cold can cause two types of problems: frostbite or hypothermia, which are not mutually exclusive. The Frostbite are lesions in peripheral tissues where blood comes little irrigation, especially in the most exposed parts such as nose, fingers, toes and ears.
And they occur when an activity is practiced in an environment with temperatures below -0.5 ºC. It may appear that this only happens to Himalayan mountaineers, many of whom have amputated toes; But in reality, freezes, in their early stages, are not so exceptional.There are studies that indicate that 20% of ski touring practitioners can suffer frostbite in some of its degrees.
In the 2010 edition of the Iditarod toboggan race in Alaska, 31% of participants suffered frostbite, and among mountaineers, 366 have frostbite injuries per 1,000.
The problem is that it is not easy to identify the symptoms of frostbite in its early stages. It is not a process that occurs spontaneously with the blue finger and surrounded by an ice cube. At first the skin may be pale or reddened, with a sensation of numbness and frost formation on the exposed part.
In these early stages there is no injury and the person may be tempted to simply rub the area and continue the activity. But it is enough to protect exposed skin with equipment or stop the activity so that the freezing process does not cause more serious injuries. If continued under the same conditions, lesions can form that go deeper into the tissues as the exposure time increases.
The hypothermia occurs when the balance between the heat produced and heat lost breaks and body temperature 35 ° C lower. At first the person begins to shiver, has little desire to interact with other athletes, and experiences mood swings.
If you continue to be exposed to the cold, the body temperature can drop below 32 ºC and then the athlete may suffer arrhythmias, the pupils will dilate and may even lose consciousness. This is what is called moderate hypothermia, imagine extreme.
The process can continue to a fatal outcome. However, one of the consequences of suffering mild hypothermia is that the muscles do not perform at the same level, and this translates into a greater risk of suffering an accident during sport. What could be considered a collateral injury to the effect of cold.
Temperature is not the only factor that can cause cold injuries. Wind and humidity are the other cards to shuffle when you go outdoors. Both wind and humidity increase heat loss. At a temperature of 5ºC, a wet athlete can lose twice as much heat as a dry one. It is what we know as a thermal sensation, or apparent temperature. And so, under conditions of, for example, a gentle breeze at 0 ºC the body suffers as if it were at – 7 ºC.
Humidity and wind not only disrupt the thermal sensation, but also change the sign of outdoor activities . While in a dry environment physical exercise is positive because it increases body temperature and prevents hypothermia, in a humid environment, such as in the rain, the same exercise can lower body temperature because blood is diverted to the arm muscles and legs produce heat that is quickly lost by the convention of wet skin. That is, sometimes it is better to stay active and other times it is better to stop physical activity.
To avoid the problems derived from the cold, certain precautions must be taken. The first is to know the climatic situation of the environment where the activity will be carried out and behave in a manner consistent with this circumstance. For example, the International Ski Federation suspends competitions when the temperature drops below -20 ° C, or at higher temperatures if the wind and rainfall so advise.
In addition, you have to equip yourself properly . Going for a hike through snow can burn 20% to 40% more calories than on the same trail without snow. And if this is done without proper snowshoes and poles, overexertion can lead to excessive perspiration, heat loss and even collapse, causing hypothermia to skyrocket.
It is also important to have the appropriate physical and technical conditions for the activity to be carried out. An expert and fit athlete can maintain body heat for much longer than one with poor technique or poor form.
Another factor that increases the risk of suffering the effects of cold is consuming products that cause vasoconstriction, such as alcohol, coffee or medications. It is also negative not to eat the amount of carbohydrates necessary for the body to have fuel, or not to be hydrated.
And of course you have to dress appropriately . The outdoor industry offers an infinite number of highly technical garments designed to deal with low temperatures, wind and humidity, and also offer excellent sports performance. Merino wool first layer technology can be found, which retains heat even in humid conditions, or heated through a battery controlled by a mobile application. Investing in good clothing is not a question of fashion, prestige or brand exclusivity, it is a safety component.
It should be dressed in 3 to 4 layers . One in contact with the skin that is pleasant, keeps warm and is breathable (better avoid cotton), preferably made of polyester or wool. A second insulating layer, made of feather or wool , and a third that is windproof and waterproof. Footwear must also be thermally insulating and waterproof .
And an important issue is not to use garments that are too tight so that they do not hinder blood circulation. Important parts that must be protected are the neck and head in order to conserve heat, where the blood supply is superficial and abundant. A large amount of body heat is lost through this area.
In addition to wearing the appropriate clothing, it is necessary to have a knowledge of their dynamic use. You have to know how to combine activity, outdoor conditions, and the number and quality of the layers you are wearing.
For example, in conditions of high intensity activity with reasonable temperatures, without excessive wind and without precipitation, a third waterproof layer should be avoided so that perspiration is efficient and the skin remains dry no matter how much sweat. And use the third layer, in case the conditions change.
In short, to practice sports in cold environments one must be well equipped, well dressed, well trained and well prepared. And willing to abort a day of outdoor sports before symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia, no matter how small. You already know the maxim: ” It is better to be on land wishing to be at sea, than to be at sea wishing to be on land . ” Trade “log cabin” for “land” and “sea” for “mountain,” and the saying goes for everything.