Healthy Body

‘I’m an Ultramarathoner and Physical Therapist—Here’s Why Walking in the Wind Is a Solid Workout’ 

Photo: Getty/ Oliver Rossi
Those cold and windy days when the seasons are changing, either from warm to cold or vice versa, take my breath away. No, like, literally, sometimes when a gust of wind is that strong, I somehow forget to breathe. Everything feels so intense when the wind kicks up; it's almost cinematic. It's a lot for you physiologically, too, which is why walking in the wind might actually be a solid workout. You just have to exercise some caution, dress right and follow a few other tips from Jordan Allison PT, DPT, doctor of physical therapy, and an ultramarathon athlete from Colorado in Motion.

Why is walking in the wind beneficial

Cold and windy exercise can increase the demand on your muscles, heart, and lungs, which makes your body work harder to move and stay warm, Dr. Allison says. "Wind can increase resistance, which will make the body work harder and require more energy to overcome the increased challenge of the activity." When you need to exert more effort, your cardiopulmonary system (which consists of organs in charge of breathing and pumping blood throughout your body like your heart, lungs and blood vessels) works to get oxygen to your muscles and power your body.

The resistance that wind puts on the body is similar to how walking uphill, hiking or even jogging can challenge the body. Doing it forces you to work harder and subsequently use more energy, maximize muscle activation, and improve overall exercise tolerance.

There is such a thing as too windy, though. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), wind speeds below 25 mph or scattered gusts below 35 mph are relatively safe (maybe not for your baseball cap, though). However, as the wind increases above 26 mph, the NWS considers it a threat to people and property. Winds above 40 mph are considered very dangerous. As soon as speeds move above 26 mph, the risks outweigh the benefits.

Who might wind walking benefit most

This activity could be considered good for people of various ages and abilities, depending on their purpose, intent, and what they are training for, Dr. Allison says. For example, if you're preparing for a race, you may want to train in the wind to mentally and physically prepare for similar situations, he adds. This allows you to be familiar with and comfortable exercising in potentially challenging conditions.

This is also a good option for people of different endurance levels that want to exercise together. Maybe you and your friend run at completely different speeds, but a challenging walk in the wind is something you could do together.

Even walking or speed walking in these conditions, minimizing high impact, can still be good training. This is desirable to people who might not want to run, can't run, or are interested in a challenge that is a slower-paced activity.

However, people with heart conditions and other health conditions, like heart failure, should be careful when going on windy days. For the same reason, a windy walk can be more challenging than the average workout; people who need to be aware of their exertion should know that a windy day needs to be approached with caution, according to the American Heart Association.

What's important to keep in mind

"Just like any other type of exercise, slowly increasing exposure to these conditions is imperative for healthy progression and is helpful to track overall improvements over time," says Dr. Allison. This can prevent injuries related to unfamiliar terrain (like slippery post-rain roads or ice). Additionally, he says to make sure to get some stretching in before and after you head out, to help get the blood flowing in your muscles before you're cold and walking.

Remember to layer your clothing appropriately and make sure you have a phone or other means of communication in case conditions become too overwhelming and you need to call someone to pick you up, he says. Additionally, check the weather before heading out to avoid getting stuck in a storm.

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