It’s tough to stay fit on cold, rainy days that seem made for curling up with a good book. Drop bad-weather excuses with these winter exercise tips to stay warm and safe during cold-weather fitness…
Has dreary winter weather derailed your get-fit goals? That’s no reason to hole up inside until spring.
Just 20 minutes of physical activity a week boosts your mood, according to a 2009British Journal of Sports Medicine study. Plus, it keeps off pounds, even when you’re cozying up to mac ‘n’ cheese or other winter comfort foods.
So lace up your sneakers – even if it’s raining, sleeting or snowing outside.
“The biggest hurdle to overcome is lack of experience and uncertainty about exercising in the cold,” says Brian Calkins, certified personal trainer and president of HealthStyle Fitness in Cincinnati, Ohio. “After a few workouts, you develop confidence.”
Try these cold weather fitness tips to stay safe and warm:
1. Dress “dry,” not just “warm.”
The quickest way to lose body heat is by getting wet. Because water is an efficient heat conductor and heat moves from the area of highest concentration (your body) to the lowest (cold air outside), getting wet will leave you chilled and miserable.
Unfortunately, winter exercise exposes your body to two kinds of wet: perspiration and precipitation.
That means you can’t just throw on any old T-shirt and sweats. Winter workout gear has to keep you dry first, warm second (and your body will take care of the heat).
“The body does an amazing job of regulating temperature, assuming you’re dressed for the appropriate temperature,” Calkins says.
Choosing the right workout fabrics and smart layering will keep you dry and comfy. Which bring us to the next tip…
2. Layer up.
When exercising in the cold, wet weather, dress in layers.
“Layering provides better insulation from the cold and allows more freedom of movement,” Calkins says.
The right layers will trap warm air next to your body while allowing moisture to escape.
First, put on a thin base layer made of synthetic fabrics to soak up excess sweat. If it’s really cold outside, wear an optional middle layer, such as polar fleece, for extra warmth. Add an outer layer (or shell) to protect you from wind, snow and rain.
Depending on the weather, your outer shell can be a lightweight nylon windbreaker or vest – or a heavyweight, water-repellent Gore-Tex jacket.
Remember: The more water-repellent the shell, the less it breathes, making it harder for sweat to escape, even if you’re wearing the proper base layer.
3. Protect your skin.
Cold temperatures mean dry air, which spells trouble for your skin. So hydrate inside and out.
Drink plenty of water (eight 8-ounce glasses a day), rub on moisturizing cream or lotion after showering and apply lip balm with sunscreen (15 SPF or higher) before, during and after your workout.
If you’re skiing or snowboarding in the mountains, your sunburn risk is higher. For every 1,000 feet of elevation, UV exposure increases 8%-10%, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Plus, snow reflects sunlight, so you’re hit twice by the same rays.
Protect your face, nose, ears and lips from sunburn by using a sunscreen with at least 30 SPF. And don’t forget to protect your eyes with UV-blocking sunglasses.
4. Don’t forget the cool-down.
Once you stop moving after a cold-weather workout, you’ll get chilled fast, thanks to all that sweat. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to cool down.
Whatever the weather, “cool-down is important for any sustained exercise,” Calkins says. “It helps your body eliminate exercise byproducts like lactic acid and reduce potential muscle soreness.”
It’s also critical for your heart.
“Going straight from strenuous exercise to standing around creates stress for your heart,” Galloway says.
Ease your workout for the final 5-10 minutes, he advises. For example, “an easy walk will allow the large leg muscles to work as pumps to get blood back to the heart.”
Once breathing and heart rate normalize, repeat your warm-up stretching routine.
“Flexibility is one of the keys to injury prevention,” Pillarella says. “Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds to keep you limber and flexible.”
5. Keep drinking.
Hydration isn’t just a hot-weather worry, it’s imperative when staying fit in winter, too.
People often think they don’t need to drink water unless it’s hot outside, but it’s still important in cold weather, Galloway says.
Sip water during your workout and switch to a sports drink, like Gatorade, if you’re planning to exercise for 90 minutes or longer.
But, just like layering, don’t overdo it. How much you gulp down isn’t as important as what your body can absorb, Galloway says.
“About 3-4 ounces is all you can absorb at a time,” he says.
So don’t chug – sip. And don’t save your hydrating to the last minute; drink regularly throughout the day.
Not sure how well-hydrated you are? Pillarella offers this tip: “Note the color and volume of your urine,” she says. “Dark, low volume and infrequent urination indicate that you need more fluid.”
Conversely, clear urine with high volume and frequency may mean you’ve had too much liquid.
It’s a myth that breathing hard in cold weather can freeze your lungs. But it can hurt to breathe because your body reacts to cold, dry air.
“In cold weather, airway passages tend to narrow, which makes inhalation more difficult,” says Debi Pillarella, certified personal trainer and spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise.
Breathing in through your nose can help warm and humidify air, but that’s not always feasible when your respiration rate increases from exertion.
So wrap a bandana or scarf around your mouth because even a thin fabric layer traps water vapor when you breathe out and keeps your next inhalation moist.
7.Warm up first.
There’s no getting around the need for a good warm-up, no matter what the mercury reads. But it’s especially important for cold-weather workouts.
“When exercising in colder temperatures, you’re at increased risk for sprains and strains,” Pillarella says.
All our experts recommend warming up indoors. If you can’t, slowly ease into an outdoor workout – known as a “dynamic” warm-up – to give your body time to ramp up, and you’ll be well on your way to staying fit in winter.