Tips for Working Out in the Cold

Amy Hendel | Dec 20th 2016 Jun 1st 2017

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You can work out safely, even in cold weather. But exercising outdoors in the cold does have its challenges. You do need to think of your clothes, hydration, and other considerations. Remember that cold air can trigger an asthma attack. Here are nine tips for “best practices” for exercising outdoors in the cold winter weather.

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The basics

Exercising in cold weather means burning more calories — your body needs to expend extra energy to keep you warm. If the sun is out, you’ll also get a precious dose of vitamin D. Cold weather exercise can strengthen your heart, as it has to work harder to distribute blood throughout the body. Get a doctor’s “OK” to work out if you have heart risks.

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Clothing and gear

Wear clothing that wicks moisture from your body. Match footwear to weather conditions — especially if it’s wet or slippery out. Gloves have lots of features now to prevent frostbite. Glove and foot warmers (like skiers use) may also be appropriate. Cover your ears and moisturize your lips. Use earmuffs or a hat for protection and to keep warm.

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Layers and fabrics

Layering clothes will keep you warmer. Wear a layer of wicking clothing first (avoid cotton, which holds moisture). Then use a layer of wool or fleece to insulate your body. An outer layer jacket and pants made of waterproof, breathable material are best. Choose wool socks. You can also use special glove liners. A face mask can protect your nose.

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Hydration is crucial

Staying hydrated is crucial in the cold weather. Remember, you may not feel thirsty though your body still needs fluids despite the cold. Make sure to drink water before, during, and after an outdoor workout. Sweat evaporates quickly in cold air. You may prefer hot tea or cider after the workout, which will help to warm you up.

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Make sure you warm up

Warm up indoors first if you like a pre-workout stretch (so you’re not standing still in cold weather), and then do a few minutes of fast-paced walking or slow-paced jogging outdoors before breaking into a full run pace. This helps to protect your heart, and ensures adequate circulation to extremities before you begin your full workout routine.

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Consider the wind chill factor

Check the wind chill factor, which includes the temperature and speed of winds. The risk of frostbite is less than five percent when the air temperature is above five degrees Fahrenheit, but the risk rises as the wind chill falls. At a wind chill of 18 degrees, skin can get frostbite in 30 minutes or less. Below zero degrees, work out indoors.

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Exercise choices

Choose exercises that keep you moving – avoid stop-and-go exercises that put you at greater risk of hypothermia because you’re standing still for a while. Jogging, running, biking, roller skating and ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, and bike riding are all good choices. You can also run stairs, walk lunge or walk squat to get a good workout.

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After the workout tips

Once inside, strip off the wet clothes and warm your body. If you suspect frostbite, warm the areas (ears, nose, chin, and hands are most vulnerable) slowly. Early signs include numbness, loss of feeling, stinging sensation. Seek out medical attention if you have concerns of permanent frostbite or hypothermia, a sustained lower body temperature.

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Final safety tips

Consider wearing reflective clothing if you exercise in the early morning hours, or at dusk and evening hours. Wear sunblock if there’s extended sun exposure, especially on ice or snow, which reflects the sun. Wear safety goggles when appropriate. Carry a cell phone and make sure someone knows you’re out and are familiar with your exercise route.