How to Exercise Outdoors in Winter Weather

Posted by Beth Hartman

Let’s face it — it’s tough to find the motivation to exercise outside these days. During the work week, sometimes both parts of our daily commutes are completed in darkness. And while winter sunshine is appreciated, it doesn’t do much to warm us up. But before you give up on the idea of venturing outside for a round of physical activity and instead restrict yourself to the crowded, stuffy gym for the next few months, it may be worth giving the idea of a winter workout a second thought.

Exercisers are often concerned about the possible safety hazards that come along with chilly sweat sessions, but there is surprisingly little to worry about. Simply suiting up appropriately with enough layers made of moisture-wicking fabrics keeps the body at a healthy temperature and functioning the same way it would in any other workout environment. Sure, a slippery moment on an icy running path could lead to injury, but exercising outside during the wintertime actually provides some benefits that may not be achieved as efficiently elsewhere.

If you can pull yourself away from that cozy seat in front of the fireplace and shut off the tv, you’ll reap some benefits of exercising out in the cold weather — and you might even learn to embrace it.

You’ll burn more calories.

As your body works harder to regulate its core temperature with the outside, you’ll burn a few more calories during your wintry workout compared to one conducted indoors. While the calorie burn varies with each person’s body mass and the extremity of the temperature, it can be a nice morale booster, that you’re pushing yourself more in that cold outside air.

You’ll strengthen your heart.

Cold weather also makes the heart work harder in its task to distribute blood throughout the body. For an unhealthy heart that struggles to manage the additional stress, this process can exacerbate illness and injury. But a regular exerciser with cardiovascular endurance can make their heart muscle even stronger with these cold-weather sessions, better preparing their body for more strenuous workouts in the future — not to mention other non-exercise stresses in life.

You’ll drink more water.

Staying hydrated is one of the most important factors in minimizing the dangers of cold-weather workouts, or for that matter any time of year workouts as well. The body continues to sweat, but that sweat evaporates more quickly into the chilly, dry air, making it seem as though the body is losing less water. Drinking water before, during and after cold-weather workouts helps maintain peak performance, protect the body from injury and stay warm from start to finish. Don’t wait to feel thirsty to hydrate! And remember, it’s always important when exercising out in the cold that you wear moisture wicking materials so that your body stays warm while the sweat that happens, keeps away from your skin.  You can check out one of our lines of running gear by clicking on this link  and you can check out the Proviz line of outdoor jackets.

You’ll build a tolerance for the freezing elements.

It can feel downright painful to force yourself out into the elements for that first workout you try in the winter season, but rest assured that over time, it does get easier. According to chief coach of the New York Road Runners organization John Honerkamp, it’s important to adjust your expectations as you acclimate rather than push for your typical, temperate-weather performance. Pay particular attention to the amount of effort you’re putting forth rather than hitting certain time, distance or other performance goals, and try to just enjoy the process.

You’ll remember the importance of warm-up and cool-down routines.

Proper warm-up and cool-down movements are crucial to keeping the body in top fitness shape, but they become even more important when it’s cold outside. Keeping the body loose, limber and warm for a chilly workout can help prevent painful twists, sprains, tears and other injuries. Winter workouts will encourage you to become a pro when it comes to full warm-up and cool-down routines, the former to keep your internal body temperature elevated, and the latter to reduce unnecessary tightness inspired by the chill in the air.

You’ll get a dose of vitamin D.

Sure, it may be cold, but that doesn’t mean the extra sun exposure won’t supply you with the same critical nutrients it does throughout the warmer parts of the year. The relative benefit also feels more substantial in the wintertime since the amount of natural light is already so restricted. Just remember to wear your sunscreen (yes, even when it’s freezing) after your skin is exposed for 10 to 15 minutes.  Oh, did we mention, you won’t be getting the benefits of soaking up those vitamin D infused rays of sun in any gym, no matter how many florescent lights they have on!

You’ll feel happier and more energized.

Cold-weather exercise also has the ability to boost one’s mood, thanks to the lack of humidity (which creates that heavy air feeling in the summer months) and the stimulating aspect of the chill. As the body works harder to stay warm, the amount of endorphins produced also increases, leaving you with a stronger sense of happiness and lightness following your workout in the cold.  Now tell us, isn’t that a great way to get motivated, especially if you make your cold weather runs, jogs, and walks in the early morning.  If you remember, we did a blog a while back on why exercising in the morning can provide you with several benefits instead of working out after your workday.

Naturally, offering these tips we are taking into account that you are already in basically good physical shape. If you haven’t done so, please check with your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen, especially one that pushes your body a little harder by exercising outside in the cold.

Now that we covered the medical aspects, what are you waiting for, get off that couch and go and dig out your running gear out of the closet, get dressed, (in layers) and go and enjoy the winter season’s fresh, clean, crisp air!

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