If you’re a die-hard outdoor enthusiast with it comes to exercise, winter weather can pose problems. Extreme cold, ice, sleet, wind, snow, and lack of daylight can all conspire to keep you on the couch.
You can always go to the gym, work out to an online video in your living room, or exercise inside if you’re lucky enough to have exercise equipment set up in your home, but if you prefer to exercise outside, cold weather doesn’t have to keep you sidelined.
There are actually several benefits to exercising outside in the winter months. You won’t have to deal with the discomfort and fatigue brought on by extreme heat and humidity, and the cold can be energizing, which means you may be able to work out longer. Exercise boosts your immunity, so exercising regularly in winter offers extra protection against sickness, and it can also improve your mood and help you avoid the weight gain common in the winter months. Winter can also add some variety to your exercise routine with winter-only options like skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating.
It does pose some extra challenges, though, so follow these tips for safe outdoor exercising in winter weather.
- If before and after work are the only times you can exercise, chances are you’ll be working out in the dark. Be sure to wear brightly colored reflective gear so people can see you, and stay alert. Wearing a headlamp or a blinking light on your jacket is also a good idea.
- Check the temperature, and remember to factor in wind chill, which can make the temperature seem much colder and can significantly accelerate hypothermia and frostbite. For more information, check out this wind chill chart from the National Weather Service.
- If you are running on roads, run against the traffic flow so you can see vehicles coming toward you.
- To stay warm and dry in cold weather, wear layers—a moisture-wicking layer first (not cotton!), then a fleece, then a waterproof windbreaker.
- Extremities lose heat faster than other body parts, so if you’re exercising in the cold, wear a hat that covers your head and ears, gloves or mittens, and non-mesh running shoes with warm, moisture-wicking socks. If it’s very windy, avoid frostbite on exposed skin by wearing a face mask or a skin protector like Body Glide or Vaseline.
- Roads or paths covered in ice and snow can make for slippery conditions, so if you’re running or walking, shorten your stride and keep your feet low to the ground, watch where you step, consider wearing trail shoes or a traction device, and remember that fresh snow offers more traction than packed snow or ice. If you’re braving the ice on a bike, use fatter tires with bigger treads and deflate them slightly for better traction.
- You probably won’t feel as thirsty when exercising in the cold, but hydration is still important so drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout.
- Consider exercising with a buddy, and make sure someone knows your route and your expected return time.
Be safe and stay warm out there!