In addition to reducing motivation, extremely cold winter weather can make walking, running, cycling and other forms of outdoor exercise downright dangerous.
Yes, our bodies benefit by burning extra calories while trying to maintain our temperature when it’s chilly, but without the proper precautions, this positive can quickly become a negative in the form of hypothermia—or even frostbite.
Luckily for those who want to stay in great shape year-round, there are many things everyone can do to keep our bodies warm while staying fit.
Below are 7 tips to help outdoor exercisers stay in the training groove, no matter what the weather report might say.
1. Utilize the Dryer—
Before you head out into the cold, icy world, put all of the pieces of clothing you’ll be wearing into your dryer for a few minutes to warm up on the highest synthetic fabric-safe setting, and put everything on right before you leave.
By dressing in pre-heated gear, you’ll warm your body to the core and stay comfortable for the first leg of your workout until your temperature rises naturally from the physical exertion.
2. Pre-Exercise Warm-Up—
A little preparation goes a long way, and if you have time to stretch, do yoga or Pilates, jump rope, sit-ups or any other form of exercise that can get your blood moving before you leave the house, it will help.
By pre-warming your body before you enter the frigid outdoors, you’ll be ready to deal with whatever weather comes your way, and be less likely to suffer from a stiff muscle or injury.
3. Love the Layers—
Layers of clothes made from athletic fabrics that wick the wetness away from the body are your best bet when exercising outside during cold weather. Cotton absorbs sweat really well, but this means it also holds moisture against your skin, which can make you extremely cold.
Synthetic fibers do a much better job of keeping sweat, snow and rain-related dampness away from the body, and layers work by holding warm air close to the body, so layer up with the right clothes, and make sure the outer layer is waterproof.
4. Water for Warmth—
Even if there’s snow on the ground, extremely cold air can be dry and very hard on the skin, making it just as important to stay properly hydrated in the winter as when the summer sun is beating down on you.
Moisturize skin before outdoor winter exercise to create a barrier between yourself and dehydration-via-evaporation, and don’t forget to use sunscreen, as snow can reflect the sun’s rays to amplify sunburn risk.
5. A Flexible Schedule—
If you normally run, bike or work out outdoors in the morning, consider waiting until the later part of the day when it’s warmed up a bit before leaving the house.
Watch the weather report every day to accurately gauge temperature, note wind chill factor, decide how many layers of clothing to wear, and figure out what the best time of day will be to head out.
Most of the time the warmest part of the day will occur during the afternoon, but occasionally a cold front will sneak in later in the day and mess up your plans, so stay informed.
6. Adjust Your Exercise—
Extremely hot or cold weather is much harder on the body than the temperate, controlled climate of a gym; so when exercising outside, you’ll need to adjust for this additional physical stress.
Until you get used to working out in the freezing air, cut your usual routine in half and slowly build back up to what you’d normally do in milder weather.
7. Listen to Your Body—
If you’re hurting anywhere you’re exposed to the cold, don’t ignore the pain or discomfort if it doesn’t go away once you’ve had adequate time to warm up.
Frostbite can present as a stinging sensation as well as numbness, so if you feel either, head home immediately and slowly allow body temperature to rise.
If you have asthma or other respiratory issues that are triggered by the cold, ask your doctor before exercising in extreme weather. There may be medications that can help, and protective face wear to lessen the shock of icy air in the lungs.
8. Face Wind First—
Plan your route to head into the wind on the way out so it will be at your back on the way home.
Facing the wind always sounds unpleasant, but would you rather be moving directly into cold winter blasts while you’re dry at the beginning of a workout, or once you’re sweaty in the final stretch, making moisture feel freezing?
If walking or running, you can also break up your moments of facing into the wind/wind at your back by turning around and moving backwards for a few minutes, with the bonus of working new muscles as you alternate.
Exercising in the extreme cold is harder on the body, but it can be done safely with the proper clothing and careful planning. Use the helpful tips above to maintain your fitness program, even when the weather is trying to keep you indoors and out of shape.