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Don't freeze your fitness routine

DALLAS — Does a chill in the air make you want to curl up underneath a blanket by the fire? With the right preparation, you can embrace the elements while staying active and healthy.

Andi Smith, 44, describes herself as a warm-weather runner, although she has a fondness for the winter months.

"There truly is nothing better than a nice, brisk morning run or an afternoon run. Those first few steps walking out the front door when it's cold and dark, you don't want to go. But then you get that crisp morning air, which is so much clearer and cleaner in the winter. It's lovely, just lovely."

Smith is a pediatric nurse practitioner at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas. The veteran of many marathons coaches many aspiring marathoners.

Often, she says, first-timers will start training during the summer and then panic as the temperature drops in the fall. She calms them down and shares tips for cold weather workouts that include:

Keep your hands warm: "If my hands are warm, I'm golden. If my hands are cold, I'm totally miserable." She recommends mittens on really cold days, "because your fingers stay warmer when they're together."

Have layers to shed: "I have sleeveless shirts that I wear underneath a thicker long-sleeved shirt. Then I use one more layer to block the wind. I can wear regular tights or cold tights with fleecy lining if it's very cold."

Stretch: "During the summertime, I'm feeling pretty loose in five or 10 minutes, but in the winter, it takes 15 to 20 minutes. Start your run slowly if you're training. If it's a race, do little 50-meter sprints back and forth several times before the gun goes off."

Ditch the cotton: Cotton absorbs sweat, which will make you even colder. Look for liners made of synthetic polyester and microfiber fabrics that will repel moisture from your skin, and layer your clothes so you can take outer garments off as you warm up. Stores that specialize in your sport should stock these.

Cover those ears: Your extremities will get cold fastest; covering the hands and feet might seem obvious when it's cold, but it's just as important to protect your ears.

Allow extra warm-up time: Your muscles take longer to loosen in the cold. Take time afterward, too, for cool-down stretches and breathing.

Drink and lather up: Drink plenty of water or drinks with electrolytes, and apply sunscreen, lotion and lip balm to keep skin and lips safe from sunburn, UV rays, and drying and cracking.