Working Out in the Cold
Cold weather doesn't have to put a freeze on your outdoor exercise program. If you
take precautions, you can still work out when the weather turns chilly.
Wear the right clothing
Clothing is critical, says the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Although
a double-thick cotton sweatshirt may seem like a good choice, it doesn't insulate
nearly as well as synthetic fabrics like lightweight polyester or polypropylene.
Don't overdress. You can overheat even in below-freezing temperatures. If you dress
too warmly, you'll sweat a lot. Then, when cold winds hit, perspiration will rapidly
evaporate, chilling you. You want to limit perspiration and keep it away from both
your skin and the outside air.
Layering is key
The ACSM recommends that you wear a synthetic material like polypropylene against
your skin. This will allow the sweat to pass through the fabric away from your body.
The second layer should be wool, polyester, or fleece for primary insulation. The
third layer should be chosen for its ability to keep the cold air, wind, and rain out.
This layer should be something lightweight and artificial.
Layering also helps regulate your temperature. If you get too warm, you can strip
off a layer.
You can lose a tremendous amount of heat through your uncovered head, so wear a hat,
cap or hood, the ACSM says.
Your feet get cold first. Wear the right boots or shoes. Insulate them with warm socks
and keep them dry.
Because of the large surface area to volume, your hands are also more susceptible
to cold. Gloves or mittens should be worn before the hands become cold. Choose mittens
over gloves, because the fingers can warm each other and the mitten decreases the
exposed surface area.
Don't forget fluids
If you can see your breath, you're seeing moisture leave your body. So drink plenty
of fluids, particularly if the air is cold and dry, says the ACSM. Drink water before
you go out, and bring some with you. Don't drink alcohol though. Alcohol makes you
Don't overdo it
Cold is a stress on the body, and so is exercise. Together they may be too much for
someone not in the best of health. Talk to your health care provider before you start
a winter exercise program.
People who have diabetes, who take certain medications, or who are older adults are
at greater risk that their body temperature will drop in cold weather.
Other cold-weather tips
Here are other things to consider:
Warming up before exercising is always important, but even more so when it gets
If the weather is particularly cold, it's probably too cold for you to exercise
outdoors. If you do have to go out in extreme cold, cover all exposed skin to
Cold air doesn't damage the lungs. Even very cold air is warmed to body
temperature by the time it hits the lungs. Keep in mind that for some people
with asthma, cold air can trigger an attack.