Staying Active and Exercising in Cold Weather

Megan Calcium and Bone Health 1 Comment

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The beginning of the year is a time where many people start their New Year’s resolutions, including that of being more active. But once you take a look outside your window and see snow falling or people walking around in big puffy jackets, it can be difficult to find the motivation to get moving.

I’m going to convince you that winter training is the best, and that you can do it—without a gym! Don’t be afraid of the cold. I’ve trained in the cold many winters, and have never regretted it for a second. In fact, it’s become my favorite season to exercise outside! So you can become a lover of the winter, too. 

But, why should you take your fitness outside?

There are good reasons of why you’d want to work out in the cold:

  1. The calorie burn outdoors in the winter is higher due to your body burning more calories in order to regulate your internal body temperature.
  2. For a healthy regular exerciser, working out in the cold weather causes your heart to work harder to pump blood, which leads to a stronger heart.
  3. Many of us have a Vitamin D deficiency that can get worse in the winter due to all the indoor time. Getting outside can give your skin that daily dose of vitamins. (Sunlight also makes you happy!)
  4. You can increase your overall performance by training your body to withstand less-than-ideal temperatures.
  5. Getting outside is healthy and invigorating! Humans, in my opinion, shouldn’t be cooped up inside all the time.

In case you didn’t know, most of your indoor workouts can be done outside. As a runner, the first thing that comes to my mind is hitting the pavement to log some miles. And while running is a wonderful outdoor exercise and one I highly recommend, you can do so much more.

Take any HIIT workout or circuit training outside (like the 20 minute workout in my last blog post). You can also use park benches for step-ups and box jumps, as well as other “already-there” objects in your neighborhood in order to tackle your workout from all angles.

Be sure to also incorporate exercises that are high energy cardio-bursts (e.g. mountain climbers, jump squats, lunge jumps) to get your blood flowing and your body temperature up. This will help keep you warm.

So, let’s get ourselves ready. First, as always, be sure to consult a doctor before starting any new exercise regimen to make sure your body is prepared for your exercise of choice. The next step is to take the following considerations before heading outside to get sweaty.

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Check the temperature and weather (including wind chill).

Take out your weather app and check the temperature, with extra attention paid to the “real feel,” which takes wind chill into account. Winter wind can change the temperature so dramatically and take the weather to an extreme, so be sure to use good judgment on windy days when deciding if it’s safe to go outside. If it’s snowy or rainy, you can still workout outside but with lots of caution since surfaces can get slippery and unsafe quickly. Also, when your clothes get wet, you feel more cold so wear waterproof gear and shoes with good grips.

Know what frostbite looks and feels like.

Frostbite appears most often on exposed skin, like your cheeks, nose, ears. But it can also happen often on your extremities in extreme cold. Early signs include numbness or a stinging sensation. So if you feel this, get out of the cold right away and slowly warm up––without rubbing––where you have frostbite.

Dress in layers.

Dressing right is one of the most important parts of outdoor workouts in cold weather. If you remember nothing else, remember this word: LAYER! Be sure to layer up to stay warm—you can always remove your outer layer(s), and tie it around your waist or put it aside once you start to sweat. You’ll get warm once you’re active, so try not to overdress.

The first layer that’s against your skin should be a synthetic moisture-wicking material that wicks sweat away from your body. Don’t wear cotton directly against your skin or you’ll get weighed down and very cold! The next layer should be a thicker material that covers your neck, such a thicker moisture-wicking jacket, fleece, or wool layer. If needed, a third waterproof shell outer layer is also a great idea. On your legs, I recommend tights with a fleece liner on colder days.

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Cover up your extremities.

When it’s under 30 degrees, it’s important to wear mittens or gloves, and a headband or hat to keep your body warm. They also sell moisture-wicking versions of these, so check them out. I prefer mittens to gloves—they keep your hands warmer by creating one big heat pocket. Oh, and don’t forget to wear warm socks; wool fitness socks are great!

Dress brightly.

Since it usually gets darker earlier in the winter, be on the safe side and wear reflective clothing or add reflective strips to your clothes to help drivers see you better. You can even get reflective or light-up bracelets for yourself (and collars your dog if you workout with your fur buddy!). Be sure to take your workout to brightly-lit parks and roads, and stay alert.

Aim for mid-day workouts.

If possible (and on weekends), aim for a mid-day workout when the sun is out and the temperatures are their warmest. The sun makes a HUGE difference in temperature and weather conditions in the winter.

Consider the wind and your pace.

If you’re running in the cold weather, wind is a big factor in planning your day. Run out against the wind and end your run with the wind at your back. Also, be careful with pace in really cold temperatures because they can make your body and muscles stiffer. Don’t go for that PR if it’s really cold out!

Take care of slippery surfaces.

It may not be the best idea to workout when the pavements are icy. But if it doesn’t look too bad to you, be on the safe side and go outside prepared to handle the slippery surfaces. Wear a good pair of shoes that are not over-worn, as this affects the treads on the shoes and their ability to provide stability. It’s worth considering getting a pair of trail shoes if you’re a runner who loves hitting the pavement in the winter.

Warm-up indoors.

Once you step outside, it’s best to get going right away on your workout or run. So I recommend doing your warm-up inside. Dynamic stretches and cardio bursts (like knee-ups, running in place, jumping jacks, and jumping rope) will help you get your blood flowing.

Take care of your skin.

Sunscreen isn’t just for the summer. The sun can damage your skin even in winter so be sure to wear some SPF on exposed skin.

Stay hydrated.

Although you may not be very thirsty, you still need to hydrate. You’re losing water through sweat, so you want to rehydrate as you exercise.

When you’re done exercising, change your clothes.

Don’t sit around in your cold, wet clothing after you’re finished with your workout. Immediately remove your clothes, and take a warm shower to get your body temperature back to normal. Sometimes I don’t shower right away when my body is very cold, so in this case dress in warm clothing until you are ready.

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Disclosure: Cal-EZ has compensated me for this post, but all opinions are my own and always will be my own. I use Cal-EZ daily not because I was asked to or have to, but because I love it. I am happy to be able to share it with you!