With winter approaching, freezing weather and unstable conditions can challenge even the most devoted trainers and athletes, let alone the average person. When it’s cold outside, it’s a little too easy to stay wrapped in your cozy blankets. Still, keeping up your physical activity to help you sleep better, strengthen muscles, build endurance, reduce anxiety, and more is important. Keep reading to find out how to stay active even in the chilliest months!
Properly Prepare for Outdoor Exercises and Activities in Colder Weather
Do you find yourself giving your workout routine the cold shoulder as outdoor temperatures drop? If so, you’re not alone! However, colder weather doesn’t mean you have to stop outdoor activities. Here are a few tips on how to safely prepare for exercising outside in cold weather:
The first step to prepare for exercising in the cold is making sure you have the proper attire. Dressing in layers is important to keep warm and dry, especially during lengthy and difficult workouts. Below are a few general guidelines for layering before stepping outside:
- Your base layer: This layer is used to keep dry. A good rule of thumb is to avoid cotton and opt for a wicking material such as polypropylene, silk, or polyester to allow moisture to escape.
- Your middle layer: This layer provides insulation and carries moisture toward the outer layer. Materials for this layer should be made from down, polyester, or fleece.
- Your outer layer: This layer blocks wind and allows moisture to escape. It’s recommended this layer is waterproof and thick enough to combat harsh conditions.
Protect Your Extremities:
When your body is cold, blood flow concentrates towards the torso, where your vital organs are the focus. Giving your head, hands, and feet extra love is important to avoid numbness or more serious conditions such as frostbite. Remember to check that the fabric for both hats and gloves is wind-blocking, as wind chill can cause heat to be carried away from the body faster.
When picking gloves for cold weather, try pairing thin, moisture-wicking glove liners underneath a thick pair of wool or fleece gloves or mittens. When purchasing a hat, pick one that covers your ears, as they do not have insulating fat to keep them warm. If you can’t find a hat that covers your ears, opt for warm headbands, scarves, face coverings, or earmuffs. Remember, you can always remove and add back layers as your core body temperature changes.
When picking out shoes, try buying a size larger than you normally get to allow space for extra thick thermal socks or doubling up on your regular socks. Another important factor in picking shoes for exercising in the cold is finding a pair that provides good traction, ankle support, and arch support, as you may come across dangerous icy pavements during outdoor runs or walks. Keep your feet warm and dry by picking a pair that includes water-resistant properties (for an even warmer shoe, try a pair with fur lining).
Know the Signs of Frostbite and Hypothermia
The body becomes susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite when exposed to freezing temperatures. Frostbite is caused by freezing, usually on the nose, lips, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes, and can cause permanent damage and lead to amputation in extreme cases. Signs and symptoms to look out for include numbness or tingling, white or grayish-yellow skin color, skin that feels firm and waxy, and/or clumsiness due to stiff muscles and joints. If you or your friend is showing signs of frostbite, seek immediate medical care and check for any coinciding signs of hypothermia listed above. If immediate medical attention is unavailable, ensure you do not walk on your feet or toes, or massage areas affected, as it may increase the damage caused. Put areas affected by frostbite in warm (not hot) water. If warm water is unavailable, use body heat – for frostbitten fingers, you can use the heat of the armpit.
Hypothermia is caused by the body losing its heat faster than it’s produced and is extremely dangerous because it affects the brain, making the victim unable to think or move properly. Warning signs to look out for include excessive shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness. If you believe you or a friend may have hypothermia, it is important to take immediate action. If you are unable to quickly reach a hospital, warm up as much as possible while waiting by removing wet clothing, sitting in a warm room, and wrapping the body in blankets.
Warming Up & Cooling Down
Because the body and muscles tend to stiffen when they are cold, it is important to pay extra attention to warming up muscles to avoid injury when exercising. According to Performance Health, “A good rule of thumb is when temperatures are between 35-45 degrees Fahrenheit, your warm-up should last around ten minutes. If the temperature is below 35 degrees, add five minutes for every ten degrees lower.” Once the body is warmed up and loosened, achieved by a walk or light jog, it is important to take active-stretching methods to ensure your body stays loose and your blood keeps flowing. A few great active stretches to include in your warm-up routine include side shuffles, lunges, and arm circles.
Once your workout is completed, don’t forget to cool down to gradually slow your heart rate and relax your muscles. To successfully cool down, gradually reduce the pace of your exercise during the last 10 minutes of your session — for example, if you’re jogging, reduce your pace to a brisk walk for the last 10 minutes. Cooling your body down will help clear out lactic acid built up during the workout and decrease muscle soreness and tightness levels.
Check the Weather Ahead of Time
Before heading outside, don’t forget to check the weather forecast for the time and duration of your planned workout. This way, you can plan accordingly, choosing the proper attire and gear or opting for an indoor workout if weather conditions are too intense. Weather-related factors to consider include temperature, wind speeds, and moisture.
A combination of cold weather and strong winds creates wind chill, making exercising outdoors unsafe even while wearing the proper attire. Any wind that can penetrate your clothing will remove the layer of insulating warmth that surrounds your body and leave you susceptible to frostbite.
If temperatures drop below 0 degrees Fahrenheit or the wind chill is extreme, consider participating in an indoor workout or taking a break. Another time you will want to consider taking your workout indoors is if it is raining or snowing outside and you do not have the proper waterproof gear, as your core body temperature may not be stable when you are wet.
Running in the Dark
As days get colder, they also get shorter. If you find yourself running out of daylight before getting your workouts in, we have included a few tips to safely exercise when it’s dark out. First, you will want to choose a well-lit route and wear bright and reflective clothing. If you are going for a run, make sure to run against traffic so you can see oncoming traffic (and they can see you). Try cutting off your music so you can hear your surroundings to compensate for losing sight in the dark. If you need to run to music, turn the volume down or run with one earbud.
You will also want to carry a cell phone and ID with you in case of emergencies. If you are frequently running in the dark, switch up your route and routine so that you won’t be a predictable target for potential attackers. Lastly, there is safety in numbers. If you can, go with a workout buddy or running groups that suit your schedule. If you must run alone, make sure that somebody knows the exact route you will be taking and how long you will be gone. Pro Tip: share your location via your phone with someone while you’re out running!
Cold-Weather Activities You Can Do in the Great Outdoors
While regular exercise, in general, is great for your physical health, running or working out in the cold is also beneficial for mental health, as 20% of Americans will experience the “winter blues” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) caused by the lack of sunlight. Outdoor exercise boosts your mood quickly, leading to many long-term benefits, including an enhanced immune system, increased happiness, and reduced stress. Here are a few ways to take your workout outdoors, even when in winter weather, and warm up with a delightful cup of hot chocolate afterward:
- Skiing and snowboarding: Snowsports Industries America estimates that skiing burns about 500 calories an hour. If you’re close to the snow, hit the slopes for a good time and a workout!
- Ice skating: Just one hour of ice skating will burn roughly 637 calories and makes for a fun winter activity with loved ones.
- Shoveling your driveway or raking leaves: Shoveling snow burns about 398 calories per hour and kills two birds with one stone.
- Grab a warm drink and take a nature walk: An hour of walking burns about 210-360 calories for most people and gets you out of the house for fresh air.
- Bundle up and ride your bike: An hour of biking can burn as much as 245 calories on a leisurely ride (< 10 MPH).
Take Your Workouts Indoors
If weather conditions are too intense for outdoor workouts, you can opt for taking your workouts indoors! Training inside is a considerable option for convenience, privacy, and availability. Keep reading for a few different ways you can exercise inside in the winter months.
Hit The Gym
Gyms and workout studios are a great way to get a workout in, despite rain or snow. It’s a great way to meet like-minded people and become a part of a community to help you stay motivated. You can join classes and take advantage of any amenities your gym offers (how great does a hot sauna sound on a cold day?!). There are also many movement options; whether you prefer stair climbing, walking, running, biking, or even rowing, the gym will have a machine for you. If you find yourself joining a gym and feeling lost, consider a personal trainer for the first few times until you get the hang of it.
Find yourself getting bored of performing the same workout routine? Try switching up your physical activities to avoid burnout! A few creative ways to take your workouts indoors include:
- Take a few laps around your local indoor shopping mall
- Go swimming in an indoor pool
- Hit up a rock-climbing gym
- Go out dancing with friends
If you work from home and struggle to fit a workout into your daily routine, consider purchasing a standing desk and/or portable treadmill pad. Keep yourself accountable by setting an alarm to stand every hour and use Zoom meetings to walk on your treadmill! You will have walked over a mile at an average pace in a simple 30-minute meeting!
News flash: You don’t need an at-home gym to exercise at home. If germs, crowded areas, and/or prices are a concern, another option to consider is taking part in at-home videos or routines. Many downloadable apps exist, such as FitOn and Freeletics, that are free and require minimal materials. There are even VR workouts that exist to make you feel like you are working out outdoors while at home! If you are looking for a quick and free workout video, try a YouTube search by typing in the area you want to target or the workout category you want to try. There are endless instructional videos, from yoga to HIIT workouts, to Pilates, that are curated to your skill level.
Now that you have options for working out outdoors, indoors, and at home to keep active in the winter, how will you stay motivated? After all, waking up at 5 a.m. to get into the gym before work is much easier said than done. Keep reading for a few tips to help you stay motivated to reach your workout goals, even when you want to do anything but get your sweat on.
Switch It Up
Set yourself up for success by trying new and exciting things and switching up your workout routine. Winter is a great time to try new activities that you can’t do in the summer, such as snowshoeing, sledding, or cross-country skiing! If you love being active but get bored of going to the same fitness class over and over, try rotating new classes and/or activities into your weekly routines to keep you on your toes.
If you need extra motivation from others, try to schedule workouts with friends that will hold you accountable or sign up for workout classes with a group. You will be less likely to flake knowing that you will be leaving your workout buddy high and dry. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals will help to support each other in reaching fitness goals. When you need an extra push, try sending a motivational message to your friend before your workout since motivating others helps to motivate yourself!
Set Attainable Goals
Rather than making far-fetched fitness goals such as “getting 8-pack abs,” try setting smaller and more achievable goals that will lead you to reach your main goal. For example, try setting a goal to “do 30 sit-ups a day” or “walk 5,000 steps” and slowly increasing that goal.
Colder weather doesn’t mean that you need to put a halt to your fitness routine! Whether getting active outside with the proper gear, trying new winter activities, working out indoors, or at home, there are endless options to stay active. How will you stay motivated to get your body moving this winter?