Dressing in layers, protecting your hands and feet, and paying attention to the forecast can help you stay safe and warm while exercising outdoors in cold weather.
Frigid temperatures can discourage even the most motivated exercisers. Without motivation, it’s easy to pack away your workout gear for the winter. But you don’t have to let cold weather spell the end of your fitness routine. Try these tips for exercising during cold weather to stay fit, motivated and warm.
Stay safe during cold-weather exercise
The following tips can help you stay safe — and warm — while exercising in the cold.
Check weather conditions and wind chill
Wind and cold together make up the wind chill, a common element in winter weather forecasts. Wind chill extremes can make exercising outdoors unsafe even with warm clothing.
The risk of frostbite is less than 5 percent when the air temperature is above 5 F (minus 15 C), but the risk rises as the wind chill falls. At wind chill levels below minus 18 F (minus 28 C), frostbite can occur on exposed skin in 30 minutes or less.
If the temperature dips below 0 F (minus 18 C) or the wind chill is extreme, consider taking a break or choosing an indoor exercise instead. Consider putting off your workout if it’s raining or snowing unless you have waterproof gear.
Getting wet makes you more vulnerable to the cold. And if you get soaked, you may not be able to keep your core body temperature high enough.
Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia
Immediately get out of the cold if you suspect frostbite. Slowly warm the affected area — but don’t rub it since that can damage your skin. Seek emergency care if numbness doesn’t go away.
Hypothermia signs and symptoms include intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination and fatigue. Seek emergency help right away for possible hypothermia.
Dress in layers
Next, add a layer of fleece or wool for insulation. Top this with a waterproof, breathable outer layer.
You may need to experiment to find the right combination of clothing for you based on your exercise intensity. If you’re lean, you may need more insulation than someone who is heavier.
Keep in mind that stop-and-go activities, such as mixing walking with running, can make you more vulnerable to the cold if you repeatedly work up a sweat and then get chilly.
Protect your head, hands, feet and ears
Wear a thin pair of glove liners made of a wicking material (such as polypropylene) under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens lined with wool or fleece. Put on the mittens or gloves before your hands become cold and then remove the outer pair when your hands get sweaty.
Don’t forget safety gear — and sunscreen
Wear a helmet while skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling. Consider using chemical heat packs to warm up your hands or feet, especially if you have a tendency to have cold fingers and toes or if you have a condition such as Raynaud’s disease.
Drink plenty of fluids
You can become dehydrated in the cold from sweating, breathing, the drying power of the winter wind, and increased urine production, but it may be harder to notice during cold weather.
Putting it all together for cold-weather safety
Consider shortening your outdoor workout or skipping it altogether during weather extremes, and know when to head home and warm up. Also, be sure to let someone know your exercise route and your expected return time, in case something does go wrong.