Exercising in the Cold

When cold weather hits, you may be tempted to turn up the thermostat and stay indoors, but you may actually enjoy exercising in the cold. There are certain advantages to working out in the cold: you sweat less in cold weather and are less likely to become dehydrated; and best of all, you burn more calories exercising in the cold, because the body must use more fatty deposits to generate heat.

If you want to continue your exercise routine outdoors in cold weather, you need to be aware of the increased demands on your body as you exercise in the cold, as well as signs and symptoms of cold-related illnesses. Talk with your doctor about special health and safety needs and concerns you may have to consider when exercising outdoor in the cold.

Following are some tips to stay safe while exercising in cold weather:

  • Layering your clothing allows the body to trap heat and stay warm without over dressing. Don't forget to keep your fingers and toes warm. Also, keep your head covered. Remember your body can lose excessive amounts of heat through an uncovered head.
  • Wear synthetic fabrics that draw moisture away from your body better than cotton. These synthetic blends also help prevent chills. 
  • Always warm up with proper stretching. Begin your workout slowly before you begin your run or walk in the cold, and have a good stretch after you are done. This is more important in the cold than the heat, because hot weather helps you warm up naturally.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Workouts at anytime of the year can dehydrate the body, and winter workouts are no different. Be sure to drink lots of fluids before, during, and after your workout.
  • Wear reflective clothing. Because there are fewer daylight hours, you need to wear reflective clothing, especially if you exercise in the evenings or early mornings. Look for shoes with reflective material on the upper part of the shoe, or put reflective tape on shoes you already have. 
  • Remember to take the wind chill into consideration when you determine how cold it is. The actual air temperature is often not the problem in cold-weather running and walking - the wind chill factor matters more. Start your workout into the wind and finish with it behind you. If you run into the wind when you are sweaty, you can get dangerously chilled.
  • Choose a shoe with more traction. Look for shoes with an aggressive outsole instead of a smooth design. Trail running shoes that are aggressive enough for snow-packed roads and sidewalks are a good choice.
  • Protect your skin. Winter weather threatens the skin with cold, wind, and lower humidity indoors and out. Protect your skin - especially face and lips - with moisturizer, sun protection, and a gentle cleanser. Apply moisturizer and lip balm before venturing outdoors, and for daytime runs choose products with at least a SPF of 15. Once you return home, wash your face with a gentle cleanser and apply moisturizer to offset winter's chapping and drying effects.


Return to the Safety Resource Center