Outdoor Winter Exercise—13 Tips to Make it More Comfortable and Safe

Wednesday Feb 12 | BY |
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Outdoor Exercise 3

Think you can’t exercise outdoors in the winter? Think again—it could help you feel a lot happier!

Winter weather may get you thinking the only way you can keep those extra pounds from showing up is the hit the gym. Then, when it’s time to go, the travel time, expense, and simple inconvenience may discourage you even further. Before you know it, you’ve turned into a winter couch potato.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Outdoor exercise can not only help you stay slim over the winter season, but can also expose you to some much-needed sunlight and fresh air, which is bound to lift your mood.

Still…those frigid temperatures. Aren’t they dangerous?

They can be, but not if you’re prepared, and it takes only a few simple steps.

Benefits of Cold Weather Exercise

The Texas Heart Institute says that keeping up your exercise routine during the cold winter months provides several benefits:

  • A great way to cure the winter blues.
  • Increased energy levels, which tend to lag during cold and gloomy weather.
  • Stronger immune system, more capable of fending off a winter cold or flu.
  • Keeps your body toned and ready for the summer months.
  • Helps you maintain a healthy weight.

It is true that patients with coronary artery disease, angina, or other heart or blood vessel problems may want to be extra cautious when it comes to exercising in frigid temperatures. Dressing incorrectly can also increase your risk of hypothermia. If you’re healthy and cleared by your doctor to walk, run, or perform other winter exercises, however, you can feel confident about doing so. Just follow these few steps to protect yourself and make your time outdoors as pleasant as possible.

Tips to Stay Comfortable During Winter Exercise
The biggest dangers for cold weather exercisers include frostbite, hypothermia, and exercise-induced asthma symptoms. As a precaution, here are a few early warning signs you’ll want to be aware of:

  • Frostbite: Early symptoms include tingling and numbness in the fingers and toes, or burning sensations in the nose and ears; red, white, pale or grayish-yellowing skin; and hard or waxy-looking skin. The first stage of frostbite is frostnip—a mild form in which the skin turns red and feels very cold. As your skin warms, you may feel some pain and tingling, but you will suffer no permanent damage.
  • Hypothermia: Early symptoms include involuntary shivering, slurred speech, inability to walk or talk, acting sleepy, puffy or swollen face, drowsiness, shallow breathing, or irrational behavior.
  • Exercise-Induced Asthma: Breathing cold, dry air can trigger asthma symptoms for some people. Scientists theorize that it causes water loss and airway drying, triggering cells in the lining of the airway to release inflammatory chemicals that cause airway constriction. Exposure to common allergens like animal dander and pollen can also trigger symptoms during exercise.

You can avoid suffering from these three problems by following these tips:

  1. Move: Almost everyone can enjoy winter exercise that gets your heart beating, as it prompts the body to warm itself. Running, ice-skating, skiing, soccer, and other moderate to high intensity workouts all pose little risk as they help maintain core body temperature. Brisk walking also works. If you’re going on a slow walk, however, bundle up a bit more.
  2. Dress in layers: This provides increased protection from the cold, and also gives you a way to lighten up as you warm up. Start with a thin layer of a moisture-wicking material to draw sweat away from the body (avoid cotton), add a layer of fleece or wool for insulation, and top off with a waterproof, breathable outer layer. Be careful, however, not to overdress—it can cause excessive sweating, which will make you colder in the long run. Realize that you’re likely to feel a little cold at first until your body warms up. Try going a short distance the first day to test out your gear, and then adjust as necessary.
  3. Protect your hands and feet: Wear a thin pair of gloves under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens. (Mittens are often preferred for winter exercise because they keep fingers warmer.) Do the same for your feet—wear two pairs of socks, one thin, and one thicker. You may need roomier shoes to accommodate the extra layer.
  4. Protect your head and eyes: We lose a lot of heat through the head, so be sure to wear a hat. Choose an insulated thermal type and don’t forget your ears. A headband or earmuffs can help protect them. Cold, dry air can also cause your eyes to tear up and burn, so don’t forget your sunglasses or goggles.
  5. Protect your lungs: Particularly if you suffer from exercise-induced asthma, wearing a scarf over the mouth and nose can help warm cold air and decrease irritation. The National Asthma Prevention and Education Program and the American Thoracic Society recommend treatment (with medication or an inhaler, as your doctor prescribes) about 15 minutes prior to exercise. Warming up for about ten minutes in a warmer environment may also help.
  6. Protect your skin: Remember that winter sun can still damage your skin and increase your risk of skin cancer. Apply sunscreen to any exposed areas, concentrating on cheeks and lips.
  7. Protect from chaffing: Multiple layers of clothing can lead to more sweating, which can increase chances of chaffing. Try applying an anti-chafe balm or anti-friction cream before going out.
  8. Use the dryer: Many winter exercisers put their clothes in the dryer for a quick warm-up before heading out. It helps you start out warm until your body generates its own heat, and can encourage you to get out there!
  9. Warm up first: Cold weather makes muscles tighter, which can increase the risk of pulled or strained muscles. Warm up a bit inside before you go out so your muscles are ready. Try jumping jacks, push-ups, or a few minutes of running in place.
  10. Check the weather: The National Safety Council says there’s little danger as long as you’re properly clothed down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Wind and rain can change, that, however. If the wind chill falls below minus 20, save the exercise for another day. Rain makes it harder for the body to manage its temperature, and water draws heat away from the body. Choose to exercise on dry days.
  11. Start slow: If you haven’t done a cold weather exercise routine before, start slow. Spend 5-10 minutes the first day, and gradually build up your time as your body gets used to it.
  12. Give yourself an out: Choose a route that gives you a shortcut home if you need it. If you get too cold, it starts raining, or the wind picks up, you don’t want to be stuck outside. A quick shortcut can help protect you, or make sure you have some places along the way where you can duck inside if necessary.
  13. Don’t forget to rehydrate: You’re not likely to feel your thirst as intensely in the cold weather, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to hydrate. Be sure to drink plenty of water after your workout, or if you’re on a long run or walk, stop for water along the way.

Do you exercise outdoors in the winter? Please share your tips!

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com


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  1. Sandra Cross says:

    You’ve described very accurately the process of turning into a couch potato during winter!
    Working out outdoors can beat working out in the gym during any season of the year and for me it has had a much bigger effect in beating any sort of moodiness (which is especially emphasized during winter months).
    I’ve learned the hard way just how necessary it is to start slowly, warm up properly and dress in layers while not having my clothes restrict my movement.

    Thank you for the thorough advice, this was a great read!

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