During the long, dark winter months, many people experience seasonal depression, suffer from colds and gain a little holiday jiggle from a busy schedule of holiday parties and other commitments. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Regular physical exercise will improve your mood, boost your immunity and help you stay fit and trim.
You can find joy and relieve stress with a daily walk, run or al fresco workout no matter the weather — you just have to know how to approach the conditions. With the right gear, preparation and mindset, you don’t have to be stuck indoors all winter. So head outside and breathe in the fresh, crisp air of winter with these tips for exercising in the cold.
WHAT SHOULD I WEAR?
The right clothes will keep you safe and comfortable during the winter months. The key is to dress in layers. Your first layer should be a breathable, lightweight base layer. Consider a long-sleeve top and a pair of leggings.
Next, you’ll want to add a windproof shell or jacket to keep out the biting winds. If you find yourself in messy weather, a water-resistant jacket can keep you dry and warm. Staying dry is very important as wet clothes are not only uncomfortable, they can also quickly lead to hypothermia.
Keep your feet warm and dry with merino wool socks, and wear a hat that covers your ears. Gloves or mittens are a good idea on the coldest of days. You can always remove layers once your body warms up. Remember this tip: It’s better to have and not need than to need and not have.
Short winter days and busy schedules force many of us to exercise in the dark. Seeing the sun rise during your morning walk is a great way to start the day, and winding down with an evening run is a wonderful stress reliever. However, running or walking in the dark does require some extra safety measures.
There are two important aspects to exercising in the dark: You must be able to see where you’re going, and others must be able to see you. Headlamps can help light your path, and reflective gear will make you visible to oncoming traffic. Remember to run facing traffic, and always step to the side if you’re unsure about the path of an oncoming vehicle. It’s better to jump headfirst into a snowbank than end up as a hood ornament.
When running or walking during the early morning and late afternoon hours, the glare of the sun off snow and ice can be especially harsh. A good pair of sunglasses can protect your eyes and reduce the glare.
If you’re new to exercising in cold weather, you’ll notice a few things right away. Runny nose, shortness of breath, cold fingers and toes, watery eyes and stinging cheeks are all part of the experience and totally normal.
The shortness of breath will go away after a week or so of exercising in the cold, after your body has time to adapt. Stinging cheeks can be avoided with a smear of petroleum jelly. Cold fingers and toes typically warm up after about 10 minutes of exercise, but always opt for gloves in temperatures below freezing.
Unfortunately, your watery eyes and runny nose may persist. Your amazingly adaptive body acts as a humidifier by adding moisture to the dry winter air as it passes through your nasal passages on its way to your lungs. Likewise, your tears keep your eyes lubricated. Wearing sunglasses is one way to avoid tearing up too much, as the glasses create a small zone of humid air that will reduce tears while also reducing brightness that can irritate sensitive eyes.
Dry winter air could also wick away perspiration, so you may be surprised that you’re not even breaking a sweat despite your intense effort. But the amount you sweat doesn’t always correlate to workout difficulty. If you’re putting in the work, don’t worry about how much visible sweat is on your body.
With these tips in mind, winter doesn’t mean heading indoors and running in place in front of the television. Winter can be a great time to head outdoors and revel in the beauty of the season. A fresh mantle of snow can remind us that there’s always time for new beginnings.
Written by Jason Saltmarsh, a competitive masters runner and freelance writer who covers sports, fitness and healthy living topics for several national magazines and websites.