Exercising in Cold Weather

Cold weather is the perfect excuse not to exercise outdoors.  Much better to stay indoors, warm and curled up on the couch and watching TV – right?  Wrong.  Going outside in winter may help keep your vitamin D levels up, it gets some fresh air into your lungs and can make you feel alive.  Cold weather should not inhibit your outdoor exercise although there are some sensible considerations to make it more enjoyable and injury free.

Choose the right exercise

Many experts are now agreeing that the best form of exercise is whatever you enjoy doing – that way you are more likely to actually do it regularly and the exercise is more likely to release ‘feel good’ hormones rather than ‘stress’ hormones.  In winter, when it’s so easy to make excuses, selecting something you really like doing becomes even more important.

Choose the right clothing

The right clothing can make all the difference when exercising outdoors in winter. The layer you wear next to your skin is really important – you want this layer to draw moisture away from the skin so you stay warm.  There are some great modern fabrics that do this but wool garments work well too, especially as they still keep you warm even if they are a little damp – my personal favourite is merino.  Avoid cotton as your first layer as it stays damp and cold.

A second layer, perhaps something a little looser, and again a wool garment is a great choice.  A top layer of a windproof or waterproof jacket will complete your ensemble.  Never underestimate the usefulness of gloves, hats and wool socks to help keep your extremities warm.

This layering is really important as it creates little pockets of air between each layer which keep in warmth.  But it also means you can strip off layers as you get warmer because overheating can be just as problematic as not being warm enough.

When you have finished exercising change into fresh clothes rather than staying in clothes that may be damp.  It will ensure you stay warm and dry and make you more socially acceptable too!

Start gently

Avoid going from ‘zero to hero’.  Before you start a really vigorous and intense workout think about starting to gently move the fluids in your body – get the blood flowing and lubricate the synovial joints with rhythmic type movements.  Dancing, some gentle jogging, circling all the major joints in the body, jiggling and shaking are all movements that get the fluids in the body circulating.  The heart rate will begin to increase slowly, blood flow to the muscles will improve and joints will be oiled up and ready to go.

Listen to your body

Winter is not the time to ignore messages from your body.  Muscles and joints that are not well prepared to exercise will give you messages of discomfort or pain – ignore these and you may well find yourself injured and unable to exercise for weeks.

Feelings of numbness, loss of feeling or a stinging sensation may be a sign of frostbite.  Slowly warm up affected areas, but be gentle – remember you may have lost sensation and cannot feel the pain of something too hot or vigorous.

Intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of co-ordination and fatigue are signs of hypothermia – an abnormally low body temperature.  If you experience these sensations you need to seek emergency help.

Be Safe

  • Wet or icy surfaces can be dangerous – be careful of wooden walkways and grass which can be really slippery.
  • Be seen – dark, foggy or rainy conditions can make visibility hard. Make sure drivers, cyclists and others can see you by wearing something reflective.
  • Take a friend or two – not only is exercising with friends more fun, but if you find yourself in trouble help is at hand.  Also let others know where you are going, what you doing and what time you expect to be back.