How & Why to Work Out in Cold Weather

Learn how to exercise in the winter while staying warm and healthy.

Even when it’s below freezing outside, exercise is still important. So how can we fit exercise into the cold winter months? 

Gyms are great and treadmills will do in a pinch, especially when it’s icy or unsafe to be outdoors. But exercising outside in the cold has a few perks you may not have thought of — and with a few adjustments to account for the weather, winter workouts can actually be quite enjoyable and beneficial for your health. 

Exercising in the winter 

It always seems a bit more difficult to stick with a workout plan during the winter. It’s a busy time of year, and sometimes we just want to stay cozy inside. But keeping up with the habit of exercising during the winter will help you feel better, boost your immune system to help you keep from getting sick, and enable you to jump right in to spring and summer activities when those seasons roll around. 

Braving the cold 

If you’re immunocompromised, or if the weather is snowy, icy, excessively windy, or below a temperature that you can feel comfortable in, opting for an indoor workout is certainly the best option. You may be able to complete your exercise of choice in your home, or at a local gym, an indoor track, or a pool. 

Obviously, you can’t do certain exercises outdoors at any time of year, let alone winter, but when it comes to certain activities — like walking, running, or playing certain sports — you have plenty of reasons to take your workout outside even when it’s below freezing. 

Now hear me out — working out when the mercury reads 32 degrees or even colder may be a little uncomfortable at first, but consider the positives:

  • Improved endurance: When walking or running outside in the cold, you don’t have to worry about excessive heat and humidity that you face during the warmer months. This typically means you’ll be able to run farther and faster at 25 degrees than you would at higher temperatures. 
  • Get some sunlight during the day: When the days are shorter, many people are at risk for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), so working out in the sun even when it’s cold can boost your mood and your health with some much-needed vitamin D. 
  • It’s invigorating: There’s something particularly refreshing about going for a walk or jog in the cold. Cold air is invigorating — especially when you workout in the morning, it can help you feel more awake the rest of the day.

Many people shy away from exercising outdoors in the winter because of the elements, but when you’re prepared with clothing and gear that will keep you safe, warm, and comfortable despite the weather, it becomes much easier and more enjoyable.

How to stay safe (and warm) 

For a safe and enjoyable workout in the cold, keep these tips in mind: 

  • Run during the day, when the sun is out. In the summer months, it’s beneficial to run once the sun has gone down, but the opposite is true in the winter. It will be a bit warmer once the sun is up, giving you a few more degrees and sun rays to feel a bit warmer. 
  • If you plan to run or walk briskly, a good rule of thumb is to dress as if it’s 10 degrees warmer than it actually is. This will help you layer appropriately so you don’t end up too cold or overheating under half a dozen layers. 
  • That said, ayer! Start with a sweat-wicking base layer (not cotton) that will keep you dry and help regulate your body temperature. Follow that with lightweight yet warm layers that you can easily take off and tie around your waist if necessary. 
  • Don’t neglect your outer extremities. Frostbite is a consideration, so be sure to wear gloves, a hat, and warm athletic socks. A tall collar or covering for your neck can also be helpful if you want to place it over your mouth — breathing in cold air on especially frigid days may be uncomfortable, and this can help. 
  • Drink plenty of water! Just because you aren’t sweating as much as you would on a hot day doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be hydrating just the same. Your body still needs water to help regulate temperature and perform well even when it’s cold. 
  • Wear reflective gear if you go outside at dusk. The sun sets earlier in the winter, so if you plan to exercise at dusk, wear reflective gear and use sidewalks and routes without excessive traffic so you remain visible to drivers. 

Get outside and enjoy the cold! 

Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a little frigid, fresh air during your workouts! Prepare well by planning your workouts at warmer times of day, and be sure to gear up with clothing that will keep you safe, warm, and dry. You’ll be doing your health a favor AND making the most of winter weather.

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