Fluids: up the ante this winter

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, is a Certified Health Coach and longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center.

By Cathleen Kronemer

The time has come for me to finally admit this: I no longer believe in the idea of “global warming”. It has been far too cold of a winter for me to even begin embracing the thought of ice caps melting somewhere and the polar bear becoming extinct! 

In addition to frostbite from overexposure in the dead of winter, there is another risk that many individuals do not typically associate with cold weather: dehydration.  Yes, believe it or not, despite the lack of profuse sweating such as we encounter in a typical sweltering St. Louis summer, our bodies are still losing moisture throughout the cloudy and gray winter solstice.

When the air temperature is high, our bodies signal us to add fluids by way of excessive thirst.  However, when we are cold, we rarely think in terms of downing a water bottle in one swallow!  According to a study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, lower temperatures will actually alter our thirst sensation. Robert Kenefick, Associate Professor of Kinesiology at the university of New Hampshire, explains that during exposure to colder air, the body diminishes its blood flow to the periphery of the body in an effort to conserve heat loss.  Since the brain doesn’t properly signal the hypothalamus to release fluid-regulating hormones, the kidneys do not realize they should be conserving fluid.  This process can serve to diminish a sensation of thirst by as much as 40 percent. 

While it can be lovely to take a walk among the falling snowflakes on a brisk winter’s evening, be sure to bring hydration along with you. If the air is cold enough for you to “see your breath”, what you are observing is your body losing water vapor with each exhalation.  Another risk the cold weather poses is the extra work your body is performing by virtue of the heavier garments you are wearing. Boots and coats and parkas weigh more than a swimsuit, and you will sweat; but since the cold air causes quick evaporation of such perspiration, you may not even perceive yourself as sweating—thereby losing more fluid.


During the winter months, many of us find comfort in denser foods such as hearty stews or soups, pasta dishes, and other meals of higher caloric content.  Often this is coupled with diminished amounts of exercise, since some days it is quite simply too cold to venture out to the gym!  Weight control can be an issue at this time of year, and dehydration will further exacerbate this situation.  When properly hydrated, however, the body can facilitate the breakdown of fats to use as an energy source.  This in turn serves to help control the appetite.  Very often, when we think we are hungry, the body is simply just thirsty.

The temperature of the beverages consumed for purposes of maintaining adequate fluid stores is of little consequence.  If you are more comfortable sipping hot tea or cider by the fire, as opposed to carrying around an ice-cold bottle of Gatorade, rest assured you are still doing your body a favor.  So drink up this season, and be ready to face the spring thaw with a healthier you!