It’s easy to exercise in the spring and fall when the weather beckons you to come outside. It may take a bit more inspiration in the winter, but it’s worth it.

Getting outside in cold weather connects you with nature, lifts your mood, and gives you a beneficial dose of sunlight/vitamin D. It also boosts your immunity during cold and flu season. With no heat and humidity, you might even be inspired to work out longer.

However, there is a way to do it safely. Follow these winter fitness tips for the basics of exercising in cold weather.

Choose the right fabrics.

When you’re wet, you lose body heat and that makes you feel cold. The colder you are, the less likely you’ll want to work out. In addition, cold can put you at risk for frostbite or hypothermia. Avoid active wear made from cotton, which holds in moisture from sweat and rain/snow. Instead choose synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and polypropylene. They dry quickly and wick away moisture.

Layer your clothes.

Use layers to trap warm air next to your body. Start with a thin base layer of synthetic fabric, which will keep sweat away from your skin. Then add a middle layer such as a fleece. Your outer layer should be either a lightweight nylon windbreaker or if it’s cold, a heavyweight waterproof jacket. As you exercise and get warmer, remove a layer, and tie it around your waist. That will help you from getting hot and sweaty which can lead to feeling damp and cold.

Pro Tip: Wear bright colors. Visibility is more limited in winter from rain, snow, fog, or dark skies. Be seen by the people and vehicles in your immediate area.

Protect your hands and feet.

In cold weather, blood is circulated to the core of your body, leaving less heat funneled to your extremities – your fingers, ears, nose, and toes. That means these areas are less warm. To counter that effect, wear a hat or headband, gloves or mittens, and thick socks. Choose materials like wool or synthetic as cotton could get wet. If your toes get cold, consider your shoes. Running shoes are designed to let heat escape. You can buy shoe covers at skiing and hiking stores. There also are specialty running sneakers designed for winter.

Protect your skin.

Winter isn’t just cold; it’s dry, and that can affect your skin. Apply moisturizer or lotion regularly. When you’re going to be outdoors, also apply sunscreen. SPF rays can damage your skin even when it’s cloudy. Snow reflects up to 80 percent of UV rays, so you get doubly exposed. UV rays also increase with elevation. Every 1,000 meters (3,281 ft.) in altitude, UV radiation increases by 10 percent.

Make sure you have traction.

When you’re exercising on icy surfaces, it’s easy to slip. That can lead to injury. Make sure that you have footwear with good traction and stay on plowed surfaces or salted ones. Take care to remove ice from your own property. If you will be primarily on the ice and snow, consider adding snow or ice spikes to your footwear. Just note that while those spikes help on icy surfaces, they can affect your balance on dry ones.

Take the time to warm up.

It’s especially important to warm up for an exercise routine in cold weather. You want to

Increase your blood flow and temperature so you’re not at risk for sprains and strains. A good analogy is what happens when you stretch a cold rubber band. It can snap more easily than a warm one. That’s what could happen to your muscles. For your warm-up, choose low intensity moves that are like those in your workout. Lunges, squats, and arm swings, for example, are good for runners.

Pro Tip: Head into the wind at the beginning of your workout. When you’re on your way back and feeling sweaty, you won’t have to fight the wind chill as much. That will help keep you warmer.

Pay attention to your breathing.

Cold weather causes your airway passages to narrow. That’s why it can hurt to breathe when you’re exercising in cold weather. Breathing through your nose can help but isn’t always possible when you’re moving intensely. Try wrapping a scarf or some thin fabric around your mouth. It will help keep in the humidity.


You may not feel as thirsty during cold weather workouts. However, you’re still losing fluids. Dehydration carries risks, including headaches and a drop in energy. Sip water while you’re exercising. If you’re going to be exercising for more than 90 minutes, choose a sports drink like Gatorade.

Cool down. Change clothes.

You can get chilled fast after a workout. Take the time to cool down, which helps reduce later muscle soreness. It also helps your heart transition from an exercise pace to a normal rhythm. Then get out of your damp clothes. Take a warm shower and change into clean, dry clothes.

Avoid severe weather.

While cold weather workouts are beneficial, there’s a limit to when you should exercise outside. Avoid the extreme cold. Don’t exercise outdoors during winter storms. Prolonged exposure to the cold can cause frostbite and hypothermia. The cold also can put a strain on your heart. If you have a chronic health condition such as asthma or a heart problem, talk to your doctor about whether cold weather exercise is right for you.

Know the signs of hypothermia.

Finally, be aware of the signs of hypothermia. That’s when your body temperature drops too low and affects other systems in your body.  If you experience any of these signs, get medical help right away.

  • Shivering
  • Lack of coordination
  • Slow reactions
  • Slurred speech
  • Mental confusion
  • Exhaustion or sleepiness


This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or



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