Staying Safe While Exercising in the Cold

Exercising outdoors in the winter can be a challenge. If you participate in sports or run outdoors in the winter, it’s important to do it safely. When temperatures drop and a brisk wind is blowing, the wind chill factor can become dangerously low. Who wants to deal with frostbite…or much worse? Here are some tips for exercising in the cold and staying safe while doing it.


Dehydration is a Threat Even in the Winter

Some people think they don’t need to drink as much if they’re exercising in the cold. Not so. Your thirst mechanism becomes less sensitive when you work out in subnormal temperatures, and you may not feel as thirsty, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need fluids. Don’t let thirst dictate how much to drink. Follow the same hydration guidelines you do when exercising in warm weather. Staying hydrated is just as important in cold weather.

Layer Your Clothing

You’ll feel cold when you first walk out the door, but once you start to exercise, your core body temperature will rise. Then you’ll feel like shedding a layer once you’ve worked out for a while. Make it easy by wearing three layers that are easy to remove.

Choose your fabrics wisely. Wear a material that wicks next to your skin to help transport moisture away from the surface of your skin. If you wear cotton clothing that doesn’t do this, it traps water against your skin when you sweat. This causes you to lose heat faster. Add an insulating layer over the wicking layer, such as a sweatshirt, and top it off a waterproof jacket. Don’t forget to wear a cap that covers your ears and put on heavy, thermal socks and mittens to avoid frostbite.

Be Aware of the Wind Chill Factor

The wind chill factor is more important than the temperature. When the wind chill falls to -20 degrees Fahrenheit and below any area of exposed skin is in danger of frostbite. This means you’ll need to keep your hands, face and ears covered as well as your body.

Change Your Direction

You’re more likely to have worked up a sweat by the second half of your run. Start a run facing the wind when you’re less sweaty. Return with the wind against your back to reduce the risk of getting chilled from any moisture you’ve accumulated under your clothing from perspiring.

Do an Active Warm-up before Heading Out the Door

Before heading outside, do an active warm-up for five minutes by jogging in place or doing jumping jacks. This will increase the temperature in your muscles and your core body temperature and reduce the shock of cold outdoor temperatures. It’ll also lower the risk of injury.

Have an Alternative Exercise Plan

If the thought of braving very cold temperatures takes the motivation to exercise right out of you, then don’t bother. If you’re snowed in and can’t make it to the gym just do a few circuits of body-weight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups and box jumps.

The Bottom Line?

If you enjoy exercising outdoors in the winter, do it safely – and don’t forget to wear sunscreen. The sun’s rays can still damage your skin even when it’s not sunbathing weather.



Hospital for Special Surgery. “Workout Tips for Exercise in the Cold”
Mayo Clinic. “Exercise and Cold Weather”