How to exercise outside during winter
Exercise can be hard enough. Doing it outside during the winter time can really cause you to pause and consider pushing those fitness goals back until the Spring.
But for those who are looking to stave off the winter pounds and winter blues, there are some easy precautions you can take to ensure you are doing so safely.
Aside from the usual precautions of outdoor exercise, including drinking plenty of water and speaking to your doctor before beginning a new routine, Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center internal medicine physician Dr. Andres Giraldo shared a few simple tips.
“A regular exercise routine and balanced diet can do so much for physical and mental health,” says Dr. Giraldo. “Even though it is sometimes less appealing to do during the winter months, any type of exercise you can do safely is a huge success.”
Aside from reminding cold weather exercisers that the more you move, the warmer you get, Dr. Giraldo offered several tips:
The name of the game is layers.
Because exercising outdoors often starts cold before generating heat, your body temperature can fluctuate throughout a routine.
Start with a base layer that can wick moisture away from your body, then add a layer or two of fleece or wool for insulation with a final outer “shell” that is waterproof but breathable to cut through any precipitation or wind.
Additionally, be sure to wear reflective gear or lights, as the winter months get darker faster.
Protect your extremities, know signs of hypothermia and frostbite
While it technically falls under the “dress properly” rule of thumb, taking care of your ears, fingers and toes is worthy of special attention, says Dr. Giraldo.
“Gloves or mittens, thicker socks, a hat or headband and face mask can ensure the parts of your body that are most vulnerable stay protected,” he says.
Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing temperatures, usually in the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes, and can permanently damage the body. Any redness or pain in a skin area, white or grayish-yellow skin, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy or numbness should seek out medical care.
A related condition, hypothermia, is when your body loses heat faster than it is produced due to prolonged exposures to cold temperatures. Signs include:
- Exhaustion or feeling very tired
- Fumbling hands
- Memory loss
- Slurred speech
Even if it feels (and is) farther away, the sun can still be harmful during the winter. While UV rays aren’t as strong across those months, they can still cause sunburn, skin cancer and skin aging. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher daily to all exposed skin.
Do double-check those temps
All this can greatly help keep you safe, but there is a point when all the precautions may not be enough without limiting how much time you spend outdoors.
As the wind chill goes below 18 F, frostbite can occur on exposed skin in 30 minutes or less, and getting wet can make you more vulnerable to the cold. When those conditions occur, throwing on an exercise video or taking a recovery day isn’t the worst idea.
“It’s great to find ways to get up and moving, but it’s also okay to take a break when things aren’t safe,” says Dr. Giraldo.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.