When winter blows in, you can pull the blankets over your head and go back to sleep—or you can suit up and head out for an outdoor winter adventure! There’s no reason you need to take a break from physical activity when the temperature drops. Exercising in cooler weather has some distinct advantages over working out in warmer weather.
Tips and benefits to keep in mind
- There’s no heat and humidity to deal with. Winter’s chill might even make you feel awake and invigorated.
- You may be able to work out longer in cold weather — which means you can burn even more calories.
- It’s a great way to take in the sunlight (in small doses). Not only can light improve many people’s moods, it also helps you get some vitamin D.
- Exercise boosts your immunity during cold and flu season. Just a few minutes a day can help prevent simple bacterial and viral infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Try these outdoor activities:
- Brisk walking or hiking
- Jogging or running
- Raking leaves
- Shoveling snow
- Ice skating
- Cross-country skiing
Stay warm, stay safe
Staying warm and dry when heading out to exercise in cold weather is all about layers. A little preparation can keep you safe from cold weather hazards like hypothermia and frostbite.
Cold temperatures, strong winds, and damp conditions (like rain and snow) can steal your body heat. For example, according to the National Weather Service, a 30-degree day with 30-mile-an-hour wind feels like about 15 degrees. And if you get wet (from rain, snow or perspiration) that effect is magnified. That’s why layers of clothing are so important. They help trap the heat and form a kind of insulation against the elements.
Resist your instinct to start layering with cotton. Once cotton becomes wet with sweat or snow, the moisture is trapped and will make you feel colder and heavier. For your first layer, you want something that pulls moisture away from your skin, like the moisture wicking fabrics used in high-performance sportswear. Next, add a layer of fleece; top it off with a thin waterproof layer.
Know the signs
Hypothermia means the body temperature has fallen below 35 degrees Celsius or about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It occurs when your body can’t produce enough energy to keep the internal body temperature warm enough. It can kill you.
Symptoms can include:
- Lack of coordination
- Mental confusion
- Slowed reactions
- Slurred speech
- Cold feet and hands
Children and the elderly are at higher risk because they may have limited ability to communicate about symptoms or impaired mobility affects them even without hypothermia’s symptoms and signs. Elderly people also may have lower subcutaneous fat and a diminished ability to sense temperature, so they can suffer hypothermia without knowing they’re in danger.
Don’t forget to drink water when exercising in cooler weather. Thirst isn’t the best indicator that you need to drink.
Bye-bye, couch potato!
When winter weather deters you from getting outside, don’t just reach for the remote. Make your time inside count. There are many ways to get physical activity indoors — no gym is required. Hand weights or resistance bands are a great addition, but not necessary. You can also wear a heavy backpack to add intensity to your workout.
Try these indoor activities:
- Home workout circuit
- Active housework such as vacuuming and sweeping
- Mall walking
- Roller skating
- Yoga or other fun group classes at your local gym, studio, or community center
- Stair climbing
Fit in fitness
Follow the American Heart Association physical activity recommendations of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week to improve your quality of life. Move more, with more intensity, and sit less.
What if I’m recovering from a cardiac event or stroke?
Some people are afraid to exercise after a heart attack or stroke. However, regular physical activity can help reduce your chances of having another heart attack or stroke.
The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association publish scientific statements that direct health care professionals to prescribe physical activity to heart and stroke patients since there is strong evidence that physical activity and exercise after a heart attack or stroke can improve cardiovascular fitness, walking ability and upper arm strength.
If you’ve had a heart attack or stroke, talk with your healthcare professional before starting any exercise to be sure you’re following a safe, effective physical activity program.
Works Cited “How to Stay Active in Cold Weather.” www.heart.org, 2024, www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/getting-active/how-to-stay-active-in-cold-weather.