Has winter sent your outdoor fitness habit into hibernation? Don’t wait until spring to get back outside. Outdoor exercise is good for your body and mind, no matter the time of year. During winter it ward off the blues, boost energy, and prevent unwanted weight if you find yourself more sedentary this time of year.
And getting out of the house to work out can be extra mood-lifting.
“Getting outside, even in the cold, allows us to reconnect with nature, break away from the digital and concrete world, and boost focus and creativity”
A ready to brave the harsher weather? Try these cold-weather fitness tips to stay safe, warm, fit, and mentally healthy.
Dress ‘Dry,’ Not Just ‘Warm’
The quickest way to lose body heat is to get wet. Because water is an efficient heat conductor — moving heat away from the area of highest concentration (your body) to the lowest (cold air outside) — being wet will quickly leave you chilled and miserable. If you're cold and wet you may be more inclined to cut your workout short, and you'll also increase your risk of hypothermia (when your core body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit) or, in freezing conditions, of getting frostbite.
“Wet fabric next to your skin will zap your body heat and give you an unwanted chill”
That means, skip active wear made of cotton, which soaks up sweat and rain and holds in moisture. He recommends opting for synthetic fibers instead, such as polyester, nylon, and polypropylene designed to dry quickly.
Don’t stop at sweat-wicking clothes. You also need layers to trap warm air next to your body and keep out the elements (like rain, snow, and wind).
Here’s how to layer up for winter workouts. First, put on a thin base layer made of synthetic fabrics (discussed above) to help pull sweat away from your skin. If it’s really cold outside, wear a middle layer, such as polar fleece, for extra warmth. Then, add an outer layer (or shell) to protect you from wind, snow, and rain.
Depending on the weather, your outer shell can be a lightweight nylon windbreaker or vest, or a heavyweight, waterproof jacket. Note that the more water-repellent the shell, the less it will allow moisture from the inside (your sweat) to escape, even if you’re wearing the proper base layer.
Choose Bright Colors
Black may be chic, but bright clothes are better for outdoor exercise. Not only is it colder in winter, it gets darker earlier and for more of the day, too. Poor visibility from rain, snow, or overcast or dark skies makes it tougher for others to see you. This applies whether you’re sharing the road with motorists or sharing the trail or path with other snow-sports enthusiasts.
Wear brightly colored clothing and gear whenever possible and consider purchasing reflective gear or blinking lights, Ridings says. Apart from helping others see you, wearable flashlights are great because they improve visibility for you, too, to help prevent missteps and falls.
Protect Your Extremities
Fingers, ears, nose, and toes are affected most by chilly temperatures because blood is shunted to the core of the body, leaving less blood (and subsequently less heat) available to hands and feet.
To keep your extremities from freezing, wear a hat or headband and gloves or mittens. You can always take them off and tuck them in a pocket if you get warm. Thick socks also help. All these add-ons should be wool or synthetic, rather than cotton, to help keep sweat off your skin. Men may also need to consider a good pair of technical briefs, underwear made from synthetic fabrics, or extra layers as needed.
If you find your toes getting particularly chilly, consider the design of your shoes. “Running shoes are designed to let heat escape, but in chilly weather the cold comes right in.
Protect Your Skin
Winter air isn’t just cold, it’s dry. To keep your skin from drying out, drink plenty of water (roughly eight 8-ounce glasses per day) and apply moisturizing cream or lotion often, Ridings says. He recommends applying Vaseline to sensitive areas like the nostrils, tip of the nose, and ears for more protection. To block out biting winds, consider keeping your face covered with a running mask or scarf.
And here’s something you might not have thought about: the sun. Yes, you can get a sunburn in the winter. Even if it’s cloudy, UV rays can reach and damage the skin. What’s more, it’s important to realize that snow reflects up to 80 percent of UV rays, according to the, so when there’s snow out you’re hit by many of the same rays twice.
Check Your Traction
Winter workouts can get slippery fast if any rain, snow, or ice is involved. If any of these elements are present, Back roads and trails may not be as well maintained and may have hidden obstacles that could lead to ankle or other injuries.
Do a Warm-Up First
“Colder weather requires a longer warm-up,”
Dynamic warm-ups increase blood flow and temperature in the muscles which, in turn, helps decrease the risk of injuries.
When exercising in colder temperatures, you’re at an increased risk for sprains and strains Think of it as stretching a cold rubber band. It can snap easily, right? Warm it up, though, and it becomes more pliable and less likely to fray.
The best dynamic warm-up for you depends on what type of workout you’re doing. But for all warm-ups, be sure they include low-intensity movements that mimic the exercise you’re about to perform.
If you’ve gotten your heart rate up when the temperatures drop to the freezing point, you know it feels different from working out in warmer temperatures. It can actually hurt to breathe because of how your body reacts to cold, dry air.
“In cold weather, airway passages tend to narrow, which makes inhalation more difficult” Breathing in through your nose can help warm and humidify air.
Remove Layers as You Heat Up
“The biggest mistake in dressing for cold weather exercise is putting on too many layers and not peeling them off in time”
As soon as you start to feel like your body temp is at about baseline, that’s the time to start discarding layers. “Remove it and tie it around your waist. If you get cold later, you can put it back on.”
Some people don’t feel as thirsty during cold-weather workouts as they do when exercising in warmer weather, says Galloway, but dehydration in cooler climates carries a number of risks, including headaches and a drop in energy. You’re still losing fluids through sweat and breathing in lower temperatures, and you need to replace those fluids by drinking water.
Not sure how well hydrated you are? Pay attention to your urine. “Dark, low volume, and infrequent urination indicate that you need more fluid,” she says. Conversely, clear urine with high volume and frequency may mean y