Staying Fit and Safe When It’s Cold Out

by Peter Bua
Staying Fit and Safe When It’s Cold Out
It’s winter and depending on where you live, there’s a good chance you’re more likely to bundle up on the sofa than venture outside on the jogging trail. After all, when it’s cold outside exercise tends to take a backseat to warmth and coziness. But there’s more to it than comfort—when it’s super cold outside, or icy and slick, staying fit, whether to go for a run or head to yoga class, can be difficult and sometimes even dangerous. So what’s an active person to do? If you LOVE cold weather, Megan has some great ideas in her post, Staying Active and Exercising in Cold Weather, along with some good reasons for staying fit in the cold that are actually really beneficial. If exercising outdoors outside when it’s cold isn’t your jam, we get it, and there’s a good reason for that…read on.

Why Staying Fit During Winter Seems Like Such a Chore

The first step in dealing with a change in exercise habits in winter is realizing you’re not alone. It’s hard to motivate yourself to get going when it’s dark by 5pm in the evening and comfort food has never sounded better. It’s natural to want to hunker down and stay warm inside, and to hibernate a bit. After all, bears are pretty doggone smart. In fact, there’s really and truly a scientific explanation behind it! Basically, with winter comes a natural desire to sleep more. And it turns out you need that extra sleep, because the winter tends to mess up our sleep cycles. As I mentioned, the days are shorter and sunlight is at a premium. This makes it hard for your body to distinguish between night and day. The result is that you may have trouble getting to sleep, so sleeping in a little, or wanting to, is a natural reaction. Winter also means that we’re craving and cooking and eating more comfort food, perhaps drinking a bit more alcohol, and there are even some added stressors in the winter time—especially around the holidays. Add to this the fact that it’s just plain cold in the winter, and it’s pretty clear why you might not be jumping out of bed every morning to exercise or opting to head to your sofa instead of the gym after the workday is over. We all need some grace periods in our lives, but when it comes to fitness, it’s never a good idea to completely stop being active. And really and truly, staying fit in winter is totally possible. Here are some ideas.

Some Ideas on Winter Outdoor Workouts—Disguised as Fun

After the holidays, when we all feel as though a gigantic semi-truck is parked on our thighs and around our bellies (or at least I do), staying fit and getting and staying in a workout groove can make all the difference. Sometimes workouts in the winter can even be disguised as fun. Fun you say? Skiing is fun, sledding is fun, skating is fun—amiright? Let’s talk about skiing. You don’t have to be a huge skier to have fun on the slopes—and you don’t always have to have mountains. We don’t have mountains where I live, but there’s a ski “resort” within about an hour’s drive that manufactures snow and I can take the kids every couple of weeks for a day of skiing, snowboarding, and frolicking in the snow. They love it and we all get a massive amount of exercise. Sledding. When it snows, go for it—go sledding! We don’t get a ton of snow in the Midwest where I live, but when we do, I’m all in for sledding as long as it lasts. And if you’ve not been on a sled careening down a gigantic hill for a while trust me, it’s not only fun, it’s a lot of work. You’ll also earn about a gazillion bonus points from your kids if you actually get out there on the slopes with them. Then there’s ice-skating. There’s a good chance that no matter where you live, you’ve got an ice-skating rink somewhat nearby. An afternoon on the ice will remind you of being a kid, and make your own kids incredibly happy, and skating is a great workout. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where there’s a lot of snow, you probably don’t have to look as hard for things to do: Ice hockey, snowmobiling, ice fishing (not really a workout, I know, and who really wants to do that—scratch ice fishing), there are tons of things you can do to keep moving when it’s cold.

Change Up Your Fitness Schedule

Don’t be afraid to change up your schedule this winter if that’s what it takes to get some exercise. I’ve traded my 6am morning jog for a brisk walk at lunchtime with my dog, when it’s sunnier. While it’s not my usual 5 mile run, it still burns calories, it’s warmer at noon than it is at 6am, the dog and I both benefit, and walking instead of running helps me avoid icy patches. I also have ditched my early morning workouts for a noon workout at the gym. Let’s face it, it’s never easy getting up at 5am, but it’s even less easy in the middle of winter. I deal with that by modifying my work schedule to allow time for me to hit the gym, Pilates studio, or find a yoga class at noon.

How to Dress for Outdoor Workouts

No matter which cold weather activities you opt for, whether it’s for fun or fitness, make sure and dress warmly. The layer of clothing against your skin should be moisture wicking, with synthetics like polypropylene being a better option than cotton. Your next layer should be good at insulating your body, but still breathable, like a fleece pullover or vest. Finally, add an outer layer that will protect against wind, rain, or snow—like a pullover or jacket made of polyester. You can top this all off with winter gear, like a wool hat, warm gloves, and maybe a scarf or neck-warmer that’ll protect your neck, nose, and mouth.

When to Give in to Your Desire to Stay Indoors

In some cases, when your body is telling you to stay inside, it’s right! I will admit to never understanding those dedicated souls who are out running, or even walking, when the streets and sidewalks are treacherous and icy. And if the temperatures are too low, no matter what you’re thinking about doing, it could flat out be so cold it’s just miserable. If you’re still considering whether you should go out and get some winter exercise today, check the temperature outside. If it’s below about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it might be best to stay inside. Even if it’s a little warmer, any wind chill can make it feel colder, which can put you at risk of hypothermia or frostbite. And of course, if it’s raining or snowing, your winter exercise should take place indoors, either at home or at the gym. If you’ve embraced the New Year with a renewed commitment to staying fit, you might enjoy this article by Ryan Polly: 6 Tips to Keep Your New Year’s Exercise Resolution. My favorite tip is having a workout buddy, who also happens to be my meanest girlfriend. That keeps me accountable, and I need that! Other Resources: What to Wear for a Winter Workout? How to Stay Active in Cold Weather 4 Ways to Stay Happy & Energetic This Winter