10 Smart Cold-Weather Exercise Tips
“But it’s too cold to exercise outside!” Who says? Not if you plan your wintertime workouts in advance. Following these 10 tips for safe, comfortable cold-weather exercise will help you eliminate excuses for staying in shape year-round and reduce the number of pounds you’ll add that come with reduced wintertime activity.
Check With Your Doctor
Exercising in cold weather can affect your breathing, blood pressure and circulatory system. If you have a family physician, let him or her know how you’re planning on exercise outdoors this winter and get the OK, or at least advice that might apply to your situation.
Warm Up Properly
Don’t static stretch – or hold stretches – before you exercise. This desensitizes muscles for up to 20 minutes and decreases your performance. Save static stretching for after you exercise and limber up with dynamic stretching before you head outside. Elevate your heart rate and warm your muscles indoors with moderately intense jogging in place, butt kicks, high-knee steps and jumping jacks.
Don’t rely just on fabric to keep you warm – take advantage of your body’s heat by trapping it between several layers of clothing. Start with a shirt that wicks water away from your body to prevent chills in the cold weather. Add a vest or sweatshirt, light warmup jacket, and then a heavier shell, depending on how cold it is. Wearing a hoodie might seem like a good idea, but can block your vision if you have to look sideways or backwards – your head turns, but your hood might not, leaving you staring into it.
Wear a hat that covers your ears or use earmuffs. Mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves by keeping your fingers together. Wear a scarf, especially in very cold weather or if you have breathing problems. When your breath hits your scarf, it will move upwards, possibly freezing your eyelids together if you’re running into a freezing wind. Consider no-fog goggles or exercise with the wind behind you.
Work Longer, Not Harder
Depending on how cold it is and how this affects your breathing, it might be better to exercise longer at a moderately intense pace, rather than exercising at a high heart rate during a shorter workout. Consider jogging if you normally run, for example, or power walking a less hilly route.
Hydrate and Lubricate
You still need to hydrate when you exercise outdoors, not to cool your body, but to keep your muscles moving. Keep your water bottles out of the refrigerator during the winter and grab one before you head outdoors. Bring along some lip balm to protect yourself from chapped lips and avoid licking your lips, especially if there’s any wind during your workout. If you’ll be exercising in the bright sun, apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before you head outside.
Keep in Touch
If you can’t exercise with a buddy, let someone know your plans, including your route, departure time and estimated return time. If you’ll be exercising for an hour, send a text or make a quick call halfway through your routine.
Focus on Footwear
Keep your feet warm with wool socks and waterproof boots. If you’re going to exercise outdoors regularly, invest in a pair of footwear that’s flexible, but keeps you warm and dry. Look for footwear with a higher cut that protects your ankles, based on your increased chances of slipping or stepping in a puddle.
Depending on where you live, it can be pitch-dark by 6 p.m. during fall and winter. Carry a small flashlight or attach one to your cap or hat. Put reflective tape on your outer layers or clothing and choose white or bright yellow instead of dark items. Make sure approaching vehicles can see you from behind.
Once you’ve finished your workout, take time to stretch your muscles to help prevent soreness later and to improve your long-term flexibility. There’s no proof that stretching prevents the condition known as Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness, but many people swear by it.