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How to Exercise Through Cold Weather

Don't let the cold freeze you in your tracks! Here's how to keep your lifestyle active and stay on the move all winter long.

There’s nothing quite like a vigorous walk, a long run, or an ambitious bike ride to get your blood pumping. Doing it as a family? Even better. But even if you love the outdoors as a setting for getting your heart rate up, once the cold weather sets in, hibernation, hot drinks, and fleece tempt us all. Combined with the richer food and holiday treats of winter-time, cold weather brings a real challenge to staying fit and modeling healthy behavior for our kids. But with the right gear and a few safety tips, you can keep your family’s exercise groove going in any season.

Here’s how to safely walk, run, and cycle your way through the cold into warmer weather.

Plan Ahead. Just like you help your kids prepare for school, you need to prepare for a workout, especially when it’s cold. Do the same for your workout. Check the forecast the night before so you know how to dress and get your gear ready so scrambling for clothes doesn’t turn into an excuse.


Layer it On. Exercise generates heat, but sweat can chill you when it’s cold. Ideally, you’ll want to start with a base layer of synthetic material, like polypropylene, which draws sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton, which stays wet next to your skin, but if you’re just starting out, fleece, long underwear, or sweats will do in a pinch.


Invest in You. Good workout clothes are small financial investments and “make a difference in how you feel when you get out there,” said Michele Stanten, certified fitness instructor, walking coach, and author of Walk Off Weight. Choose a solid base layer or a water and wind-resistant thin outer layer. Reward yourself with more pieces of clothing as you achieve goals or lose weight. Start with the base layer of silk, wool, or polyester, then cover with fleece or wind-resistant, waterproof, breathable outer layer.


Be Creative. With a new eye towards exercise, pay attention to the small-town trending shopping centers, parking lots, or school grounds. They tend to be well-lit, have shoveled sidewalks, and easy access to bathrooms, said Stanten. Plan to walk for 10 minutes then grocery shop, she added. If you’re feeling up for it afterwards, run to the post-office.


Shiver Away Calories. You burn more calories in cold weather. Because your metabolic rate increases slightly to warm your body, you burn a few more exercising in cold weather. Shivering can dramatically increase metabolic burn, according to a 2010 review series on shivering. Every little bit counts, right?


Terrible “Toos”. Exercising too much too soon: It’s a major cause of injury, which can side track you, and make it harder to reach your goals. “This time of year, start with 10 minutes,” said Stanten. “Do more if you feel like it.” The important thing is to make that commitment, and aim for 10 minutes every day. “Don’t not do it if you can’t get out,” said Stanten. Walk around the house for 10 minutes, go up and down the stairs, walk on the treadmill. “All of it counts,” she added. 


Find the Part. Won’t leave home without a scarf? Need a hat? Determine which body part needs protection to have an enjoyable workout, said Stanten, and have it with you. The body is spending all its energy keeping your core warm, so blood flow is directed away from your hands, toes, ears and head. Cover them with hats, wool socks, and gloves layered with mittens.


Safety. If you’ll be exercising early in the morning, it’s going to be dark. So be sure to wear bright colored clothes, reflective vests, and carry a flashlight or wear a headlamp. Feel safe and stay upright and buy a pair of stabilizers for your shoes with ice-traction devices like YakTrax. Do not expect cars to see you, especially those turning right, so be sure to stop or walk behind them.


Posture. When it’s cold and windy, we tend to “round ourselves to protect ourselves from the elements,” said Stanten. This rounded posture increases tension and makes it harder to breathe. Instead, Stanten said, keep your shoulders away from your ears (kind of like separating squabbling siblings). This allows your walk to be more relaxing and improves your mood.   


Photograph by Maridav for Canva.