Staying Active in Cold Weather

Updated:Dec 7,2015

couple running in winterWhen winter blows in, you can pull the blankets over your head and go back to sleep—or you can suit up and head out for an outdoor winter adventure!

Tips to Keep in Mind

There’s no reason you need to take a break from physical activity when the temperature drops. In fact, exercising in cooler weather has some distinct advantages over working out in warmer weather.

  1. No heat and humidity to deal with. Winter’s chill might even make you feel awake and invigorated.
  2. You may be able to work out longer in cold weather—which means you can burn even more calories.
  3. It’s a great way to take in the sunlight (in small doses). Not only can light improve many people’s moods, it also helps you get some vitamin D.
  4. Exercise boosts your immunity during cold and flu season. Just a few minutes a day can help prevent simple bacterial and viral infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Try these outdoor activities:

  • Brisk walking or hiking
  • Jogging or running
  • Raking leaves
  • Shoveling snow
  • Ice skating
  • Sledding
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Snowshoeing

Stay Warm, Stay Safe

Staying warm and dry when heading out to exercise in cold weather is all about layers. A little preparation can keep you safe from cold weather hazards like hypothermia and frostbite.

Cold temperatures, strong winds and damp conditions (like rain and snow) steal your body heat. For example, according to the National Weather Service, a 30-degree day with 30-mile-an-hour wind feels like about 15 degrees. And if you get wet (from rain, snow or perspiration) that effect is only magnified. That’s why layers of clothing are so important. They help trap the heat and form a kind of insulation against the elements.

Resist your instinct to start layering with cotton. Once cotton becomes wet with sweat or snow, the moisture is trapped and will actually make you feel colder (and heavier). For your first layer, you want something that pulls moisture away from your skin, like the moisture wicking fabrics used in high-performance sportswear. Next, add a layer of fleece; finally, top with a thin waterproof layer.

Know the Signs

Hypothermia means the body temperature has fallen below 35 degrees Celsius or about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It occurs when your body can't produce enough energy to keep the internal body temperature warm enough. It can kill you.

Symptoms can include:
  • lack of coordination
  • mental confusion
  • slowed reactions
  • slurred speech
  • cold feet and hands
  • shivering
  • sleepiness
Children and the elderly may be at more risk because they may have limited ability to communicate or impaired mobility. Elderly people may also have lower subcutaneous fat and a diminished ability to sense temperature, so they can suffer hypothermia without knowing they're in danger. Learn more about cold weather and cardiovascular disease.

Stay Hydrated

Don’t forget to drink water when exercising in cooler weather. Thirst isn’t the best indicator that you need to drink. Learn more about staying hydrated.

Bye-Bye, Couch Potato!

If the winter weather prevents you from getting outside, don’t just reach for the remote. Make your time inside count. There are many ways to get physical activity indoors—no gym required. Hand weights or resistance bands are a great addition, but not necessary. You can also wear a heavy backpack to add intensity to your workout.

Try these indoor activities:
  • Home workout circuit
  • Dancing
  • Active housework like vacuuming and sweeping
  • Mall walking
  • Bowling
  • Roller skating
  • Yoga or other fun group classes at your local gym, studio, or community center
  • Stair climbing

Fit in Fitness

Follow the American Heart Association physical activity recommendations to improve your quality of life. Whether you’re aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or at least 75 of vigorous exercise each week, or an equal combination of both, you can break either down into 10-minute sessions sprinkled throughout your day.

Learn more with our Cold Weather Fitness Guide.

What if I’m recovering from a cardiac event or stroke?

Some people are afraid to exercise after a heart attack. But regular physical activity can help reduce your chances of having another heart attack.

The AHA published a statement in 2014 that doctors should prescribe exercise to stroke patients since there is strong evidence that physical activity and exercise after stroke can improve cardiovascular fitness, walking ability and upper arm strength.

If you’ve had a heart attack or stroke, talk with your doctor before starting any exercise to be sure you’re following a safe, effective physical activity program.

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Last reviewed 12/2015

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