9 Tips For Exercising in Cold Weather

I will admit that I am a total baby when it comes to running in the heat -- the humidity just kills me! In contrast, cold weather running doesn’t bother me at all --I’m one of those crazy people you see out running when it’s 7 degrees out! I just finished training for a half marathon (that I ran on Sunday) and selecting that race was highly dependent on the fact that training could happen during cooler temperatures.

Exercising in cold weather definitely requires a shift in preparation mindset so I was super excited to get some tips from Julia Kajen, PT, DPT of Tufts Medical Center Physical Therapy Department, about how to exercise safely in cooler temperatures.

1. Opt for safety first

If the roads look too dangerous, opt for an indoor workout instead. Do an indoor body-weight workout instead consisting of squats, lunges, planks, push-ups, running up stairs, or jumping rope. Or if you do head out, bring a phone with you if you’re going out in poor weather in case you need to call for a ride or Uber home (or bring your Charlie card if you pass any T stops). It’s also ideal to let someone know you’re going to be out of the house running, the general route you’re taking, and what time you expect to be home. This is most important in the dark or snow/rain/sleet.

2. Dress safely

One of your best defenses will be to dress safely. Here are some key tips:

  • Dress in layers! Your innermost layer will be key for moisture management so avoid cotton and opt for a performance fabric. The middle layer is for insulation so go for a light fleece. The outermost layer is for protection against wind, rain, and snow, so something water-repellent is best.
  • Keep extremities warm: mittens or running gloves, warm socks, and a light fleece hat or earmuffs are musts for the much colder temperatures.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf or ski mask; this is especially helpful for exercisers with exercise-induced or cold-weather induced asthma.
  • Wear reflective clothing in the dark (all year round).
  • Wear sunglasses and sunscreen if out in the sun, even when it’s cold!
  • Make sure your sneakers have proper traction.

3. Be sure to build a warm-up into your routine

Warming up is A MUST for injury prevention, not to mention a more comfortable and successful exercise session. Begin by warming up indoors for about 10 minutes with a dynamic warm-up; for example, jumping jacks, jogging in place, squats, or jump squats. Then perform a warm-up outside that is longer than your usual (jog for a little longer before running).

4. Pay attention to direction

If you are walking or running outside, begin your route FACING the wind so the return portion has the wind at your back. This is important once you are sweating because running into the wind at the end of a workout increases the risk for hypothermia.

5. Know the signs

And speaking of hypothermia, know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and be on the lookout for any other outdoor exercisers you think may be experiencing it! Signs include: dizziness, nausea, impaired coordination and speech, drowsiness and atypical fatigue, confusion, and poor decision making (trying to remove warm clothes).

6. Extend your cool down

As with your warm-up, your cool down should be a little longer than usual. Don’t stop running immediately; jog for about 5 minutes, decreasing the speed before walking or stopping. Once inside, remove each layer slowly as you are performing your end of workout stretches.

7. Hydrate

Don’t forget to hydrate! Even if you don’t feel thirsty after a workout, it is vital to hydrate with water, just like you would in warmer temperatures.

8. Find your squad

Joining an outdoor exercise group like a running club in the winter can help improve motivation and adherence to an exercise routine. You’ll look forward to running with others even in the dark, cold, stormy nights!

9. Give yourself a high five for getting out there!

Value your time outside and exercising! Exercise increases serum concentrations of endocannabinoids which produce a sense of well being, decrease anxiety, and lessen the experience of pain. If you can exercise in the daylight you get the extra bonus of reducing wintertime problems such as low mood, poor sleep patterns, decreased energy and less Vitamin D availability.

Tufts Medical Center is a renowned not-for-profit academic medical center in downtown Boston. Floating Hospital for Children is the full-service children’s hospital of Tufts Medical Center. Both are the principal teaching hospitals of Tufts University School of Medicine. Tufts MC and the Floating Hospital offer a full range of services including primary care, OBGYN services in all areas of women’s health and dedicated pediatric and adult emergency rooms.

Disclaimer: The content provided in this post is intended solely for the information of the reader. This information is not medical advice and should not replace a consultation with a medical professional.

Disclosure: This post reflects a compensated editorial partnership with Tufts Medical Center. My passion for this topic, and my thoughts on running when it’s 7 degrees out, are -- of course -- my own.