Winter is actually one of the best times to get out and exercise. I know it doesn’t always feel like this is the truth, especially for those of us who crave more warmth than most, but there are some really good reasons to brave the cold.
Our bodies desperately need fresh air, sunshine, and movement during winter as we find ourselves cramped indoors more often. Exercise naturally increases endorphins anytime, but since exercise takes more work during winter and your body has to combat the cold, it releases even more endorphins when it is colder. You also get some sun for vitamin D, fresh air to combat fatigue and cabin fever, and you give your lymphatic and cardiovascular systems a boost for better circulation, detoxification, and immunity.
1. Warm Up Thoroughly – Don’t skip your warm up when it’s cold out. You are more likely to hurt yourself if you do. Spend at least 5 minutes walking around or jogging in place indoors before you head out. Maybe do some jumping jacks and get your blood flowing and your muscles ready to tackle the chill.
2. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate – It’s easy to think you don’t sweat as much during winter, but with warmer clothes and dry air, you would be very wrong. You may even sweat more than you would during warmer months. Drink plenty of clean water before, during, and after any exercise.
3. Start Small – Don’t go out and do what you know you can manage in the middle of summer. Do a little less, maybe even half of what you would normally try. The cold air is a little harder on your lungs and, if you have to stop to rest, you will chill quickly. It is better if you can make it through your exercise without stopping for too long.
4. Don’t Over Dress – You want layers, but you don’t want to be too bundled up. If you bundle up, you are going to sweat too much and get too hot. When you stop, slow down, or try to take clothes off, that sweat will freeze. This is a good way to get yourself uncomfortable fast and increase your risk of injury and illness too. You want about three layers. The first layer should be something that wicks away moisture, the second should be a warm, thin insulator like wool, and the third should be water resistant to protect you from the elements. This lets you more easily adjust to your temperature rising as you exercise. Avoid cotton as it tends to sop up moisture and hold it to you.
5. Protect Your Extremities – Your head, ears, hands, and feet are the first to get cold as your body pulls blood toward your core to keep you warm. You also lose a good 50% of your body heat from your head. Keep these covered with a warm hat, gloves, warm socks, and good shoes. A scarf or face mask may be a good idea too when it is colder to protect your skin and your lungs.
6. Know the Route – Winter weather can wreak havoc on your usual paths. Pick a well maintained, plowed, safe route that is also free from too much traffic without leaving you somewhere isolated and alone. If you run at night or early in the morning, you also want someplace that is well lit. Stay close to home if possible so you can head inside quickly if you get too cold or if you injure yourself.
7. Check the Forecast – Rain, wind, and temperature must be a factor in when and how much you exercise. Wind chill and moisture can drop the temperature your body experiences drastically. If it is nasty out there, don’t go out. Don’t be afraid to cancel or reschedule when it gets cold or wet or the wind is blowing too hard. Wait for the warmer afternoon or stay in entirely. If you brave the cold and you start feeling numb or shivering uncontrollably, head back inside immediately. Frostbite and hypothermia are two very serious concerns that should not be ignored.
8. Cool Down Wisely – You may want to split your cool down between the great outdoors and the warmer indoors. If you start cooling down too early outside, your sweat may freeze and drop your temperature too quickly. Start slowing a few minutes before you get home and then finish your cool down inside with some walking and stretching.
Stay safe and healthy out there, warriors. It’s cold, but that won’t stop us.