Young couple jogging outside in sunny winter mountains.

Winter is here and for most of us the cold weather has arrived, along with snow and ice. If you love spending time outdoors, winter can be fun for playing in the snow and taking advantage of winter sports, but the snow and bitter cold often keep people indoors, which can easily derail workout motivation.

Just because the weather gets cold doesn’t mean that you have to stop exercising outdoors! Obviously we’re not saying you should go run in a blizzard, but people can still enjoy time outdoors even in the winter.

Exercising in the cold definitely takes more time to prepare: you need to plan ahead with the clothing that you will wear, shoes, head gear, glasses to block the wind, etc. It will take a little bit of time to prepare yourself for the elements, but once you get used to it, the planning stage takes less time so you can spend more time outside exercising.

Here are some tips for exercising safely in the cold!

  1. Take more time to do your warm-up:

Warm-ups before workouts are important for the health of your muscles and joints, but if you’re going outside in the cold, it’s even more important since your body needs more time to get warm and flexible. You may need to warm-up a bit inside before heading outside for your workout.

If you want to get right to your workout, spend the first few minutes exercising at moderate intensity to warm your body before doing anything high intensity.

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  1. Bundle up in layers… but not too much.

Runners may have heard the anecdotal advice to dress like it’s 20 degrees warmer if you’re going for a run outdoors (or doing an activity of similar intensity). This will change if you’re doing something lower intensity like walking. So if it’s 20 degrees out, dress like you would if you’re not exercising in 40-degree weather.

Layers are an outdoor enthusiast’s best friend! Simple layers are best so you can add more or take off as you need. Just make sure that you don’t add too many layers. This can result in excessive sweating and wet clothes, and chill when you shed your top layers. This might take a bit of practice, but layer smart!

It helps to make a loop around your car or home so if you need to stop and add some more layers you can get more quickly.

  1. Take wind into account.

This is a big one! The wind can get pretty bad in different locations around your town, and it goes right through your clothing. Wearing the proper clothing at 30 degrees is completely different than wearing the proper clothing at 30 degrees with 20 MPH wind gusts. Check your weather to see what the weather feels like with windchill to dress properly.

If you live in an area with a lot of wind, invest in some windproof clothing, hats, and gloves. Also wear glasses to help block the wind as well so your eyes don’t get dry and irritated.

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  1. Cover your head, ears, and hands.

Don’t forget to cover your these exposed body parts. Your body loses a lot of heat from your head, and cold wind going into your ears can cause headaches (no fun). We love using RunPhones headphones for this reason – they keep your head and ears warm and dry with moisture-wicking technology without letting you skip a beat!

  1. Wool can be a friend.

Typically wool isn’t considered a great material to workout in, but it can be a life saver in winter! There are some great companies out there that make light wool layers for exercise that are amazing. Wool running socks can even keep your feet warm even when your shoes get soaked!

Certain types of wool (like merino) can be soft and non-chafing for workouts, lightweight, and will keep you warm even if they get wet. Wool layers can be a bit expensive, but they can last a long time if they are well cared for.

  1. Cover your mouth and nose.

When it gets very cold outside and it’s windy, it’s a good idea to cover your mouth and nose, especially you aren’t used to working out in the cold. Covering your mouth and nose will help warm the air moving to your lungs so it will be more comfortable to breath.

Some options for covering your mouth and nose can be neck gators, tubular bandanas (like Hoorag or Buff), balaclavas (some sports companies make these), and scarves.

  1. Be on the lookout for ice.

Be conscientious of the possibility of ice on the areas where you will be exercising. Try to avoid icy areas if possible. But if it’s unavoidable, try using shoes with grips on the soles made for winter, or get some ice spikes for shoes that wrap around your regular running shoes.

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While preparing for cold-weather exercise can take a little while, it pays off in the end so you can enjoy time in the fresh air year-round! Once you have your winter exercise kit set up and get some practice suiting up for the weather, it won’t take long to get ready to enjoy the outdoors.

– By Sarah J. Parker, ACSM CPT, ACE Health Coach,

Smart Lifebites