Go for the Cold: Staying Active Outdoors in Winter

Outdoor exercise can be challenging in any season, but winter can make it very hard to take that first step out the door. With a little planning and the right gear, you can keep Mother Nature from stopping you cold.

Heading Out

Indoor exercise can make the winter seem a lot longer. This is a good reason to get outdoors and improve your mood. Here are some tips on how to have a safe winter workout.

Dress in Layers

You will need to dress in layers. Your first layer should be a synthetic material to help the body wick sweat from the skin. The second layer should be a synthetic or natural material to keep you warm. Your outer layer should be waterproof and windproof.

Carry extra dry clothing to change into in case you stop for a break and you have been sweating. Putting on dry clothes before you go back to exercising will help you maintain a normal body temperature.

Do Not Dry Out

Cold air can take away moisture from the body. Strong winds can also raise the risk of dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids. It is also a good idea to drink in the hour or two before exercising.

Eat for Heat

You need to get enough calories any time you exercise for a long time. In the winter, the stress of the cold makes the body burn calories faster. Think about eating energy bars or gels to stay fueled.

Calling for Help

People who spend time in remote places might want to carry a mobile phone in case you have an emergency. You should also let someone at home know the details of your plans ahead of time, especially if you are going somewhere with poor mobile phone reception. You should also be sure to sign in and out of any trailheads if that is an option. This will let others know that you were there.

Trail Running/Snowshoeing

Most of the single-track trails used by trail runners are covered in packed snow and ice. Attaching traction devices to your trail shoes can help.

Tracks made by snowmobiles are great, but many trail runners would rather make their own paths. That is why snowshoeing is becoming popular with trail runners. Snowshoe races are also becoming common in many places.

Mountain Biking

Many bicyclists enjoy riding well into the winter by following some safety steps. You should wear a head band over your ears or a neck gaiter to help hold the heat in on very cold days. A balaclava under your helmet is also a good idea. Neoprene boot covers help on windy days.

Riders should also make sure that they have reflective material on their clothes or bike so they can be seen by cars on dark winter nights. Studded snow tires or chains are also a good option in icy conditions.

Hiking

Bad weather should not stop hikers, but it can limit how far you go. You can enjoy hiking as long as you are dressed properly and do not sit around in wet clothing in an open area.

However, snow-covered ice can be dangerous, so you will want to use poles or stabilizers on your shoes for traction. Travel in a group of three or more people to ensure safety in the event of an emergency. This way, one person can go for help when someone else stays with an injured person.

Common Sense

Winter gear can make it easier to stay active, but there will still be times when it is best to stay inside, such as when the wind chill is very low. When it is safe to go out, you can stay active and safe with some planning and the right gear.

RESOURCES:

American Council on Exercise
https://www.acefitness.org

Forest Service—US Department of Agriculture
https://www.fs.usda.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
http://www.canada.ca

Travel and Tourism—Canada
https://travel.gc.ca

REFERENCES:

Five tips for winter exercise. US Department of Veterans Affairs website. Available at: https://www.myhealth.va.gov/mhv-portal-web/ss20190116-winter-proof-your-workout. Accessed June 28, 2021.

Winter safety tips. Washington Trails Association website. Available at: http://www.wta.org/go-outside/basics/winter-safety-tips. Accessed June 28, 2021.

Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board  Last Updated: 6/28/2021