When the cold and snowy weather hits, it can be tough to keep your workout routine outside. Reconnecting with nature is good for your body and mind. Breaking away from the digital and institutional world will help boost creativity and increase your focus. Keeping your workout alive during the winter months will help boost your energy and help to reduce weight gain. Don’t allow winter to keep you hostage indoors. With these easy tips for exercising outside, you will be more than ready to take on mother nature!
The quickest way to lose body heat is to get wet. Water is an efficient heat conductor, moving heat away from the area of highest concentration (your body) to the lowest (cold air outside) so getting wet will quickly leave you chilled and miserable. If you’re cold and wet you may be more inclined to cut your workout short, and you also increase your risk for hypothermia (when your core body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit) or, in freezing conditions, for getting frostbite. Skip active wear made from cotton, which soaks up sweat and rain and holds in moisture and opt for synthetic fibers instead, such as polyester, nylon, and polypropylene designed to dry quickly.
You will also need layers to trap warm air next to your body and keep out the elements (like rain, snow, and wind.) First, put on a thin base layer made of synthetic fabrics to help pull sweat away from your skin. If it’s really cold outside, wear a middle layer, such as polar fleece, for extra warmth. Then, add an outer layer (or shell) to protect you from wind, snow, and rain. Note that the more water-repellent the shell, the less it will allow moisture from the inside (your sweat) to escape, even if you’re wearing the proper base layer.
Not only is it colder in winter, it’s darker too. Poor visibility from rain, snow, or overcast or dark skies makes it tougher for others to see you. This applies whether you’re sharing the road with motorists or sharing the trail or path with other snow-sports enthusiasts. Wear brightly colored clothing and gear whenever possible and consider purchasing reflective gear or blinking lights. Apart from helping others see you, wearable flashlights are great because they improve visibility for you, too, to help prevent missteps and falls.
Fingers, ears, nose, and toes are affected most by chilly temperatures because blood is shunted to the core of the body, leaving less blood (and subsequently less heat) available to hands and feet. To keep your extremities from freezing, wear a hat or headband and gloves or mittens. You can always take them off and tuck them in a pocket if you get warm. These extra items should be wool or synthetic, rather than cotton, to help keep sweat off your skin. If you find your toes getting chilly, consider the design of your shoes. Running shoes are designed to let heat escape, but in chilly weather the cold comes right in. Shoe covers, which you can find at a skiing or hiking retailer, can help lock out the cold.
Winter air can be very dry. To keep your skin from drying out in it, drink plenty of water and rub on moisturizing cream or lotion. Apply Vaseline to sensitive areas like the nostrils, tip of the nose, and ears for more protection. To block out chilling winds, consider keeping your face covered with a running mask or scarf. Another threat to your skin that we often forget about is the sun. You can get a sunburn in the winter even if it’s cloudy as UV rays can reach and damage the skin. It’s also important to realize that snow reflects up to 80 percent of UV rays so applying sunscreen before you head outside will help protect your skin.
Winter workouts can get slippery if rain, snow or ice are involved. Try to stay on plowed or salted surfaces. Trails and back roads may involve more obstacles, so attaching snow or ice spikes to your running shoes or hiking boots will help add traction and support to reduce the risk of falls.
Dynamic warm-ups increase blood flow and temperature in the muscles to help decrease the risk of injuries. Exercising in cold temperatures increases your risks of sprains and strains. The best dynamic warm-up for you depends on what type of workout you’re doing. But for all warm-ups, be sure they include low-intensity movements that mimic the exercise you’re about to perform.
When you get your heart rate up in the colder weather, breathing feels very different from when you exercise in the warmer months. It can actually hurt to breathe due to how our bodies react to the cold, dry air. Our airways tend to become narrower which makes inhalation more difficult. Breathing in through your nose can help warm and humidify air, but that’s not always easy when you’re exerting yourself and breathing heavily. Wrapping a bandanna or scarf around your mouth (or another thin fabric layer) can help trap water vapor in when you breathe out to keep air more moist as you continue to breathe.
Exercising will warm up your body considerably, and you don’t want to get sweaty when you are in subfreezing temperatures as this will leave you at risk for all kinds of things including dehydration and frostbite. As soon as you feel your temperature is baseline, you should start to take off a layer. Also, keep in mind that your exercise intensity will affect how many layers you need and how soon you need to start removing them. Runners tend to need fewer layers than walkers because they move faster and produce more body heat.
Some people don’t feel as thirsty in the winter weather but while exercising, you are losing fluids through sweat while breathing in the cold air. You still need to replace those fluids by drinking water. Sip water throughout your workout and switch to a sports drink if you are planning to exercise for more than 90 minutes. Not overdoing it is very important as your body is only able to absorb three to four ounces at a time.
The faster you’re moving, the higher the wind-chill factor and your risk for hypothermia. To help reduce the impact and keep you core body temp up, make sure that you head into the wind at the beginning. That ensures that, on your way back, when you’re at your sweatiest and have the greatest risk of losing body heat, you aren’t fighting the wind chill as well. Keep the wind at your back and wear a wind-breaking layer.
Once you stop moving in winter weather you can become chilled very fast, but don’t skip the ‘cool-down’ aspect of your workout. A cool down will help to reduce muscle soreness and helps alleviate stress from your heart. Gradually taper your exercise intensity during the final 5 to 10 minutes, then, once breathing and heart rate normalize, repeat your warm-up and do some static stretching. Then it’s time to get out of your damp workout clothes, which can suck away warmth. A warm shower and dry, clean clothes help keep that chill away.