Winterize Your Exercise, Indoors and Out

Winterize Your Exercise, Indoors and Out

Has old man winter blown away some of your exercise motivation? Even though it’s cold outside, your muscles still need to feel the burn. Beat midwinter workout blahs by switching things up.

Winter Warriors

If you want to get some fresh air this winter, try some of these ideas.

  • Borrow or rent shoes for snowshoeing.
  • Shovel your walk (or your neighbor’s).
  • Hit the tennis court. Platform tennis is popular in winter because it’s played on an elevated, heated platform.
  • Go snowtubing. The hike back up the hill is good exercise.
  • Break out the cross-country skis. The winter equivalent of riding a bike, it gives your lower body a great workout. Using the poles works your arms, back and chest muscles.
  • Take a daily walk. Just be sure to add layers to stay warm.

For those of you who want to stay warm and toasty inside:

  • Stretch your muscles with a live yoga class or an online yoga video at home.
  • Hit the pool or indoor track at your local YMCA   or community center.
  • Spend the morning walking through your area art museum.
  • Scrabble up a rock wall at a climbing gym.
  • Find a roller rink or other indoor place to show off your 1990s roller blading moves.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside

There are some special considerations when you’re exercising in the cold weather. Here some things to keep in mind. 

If you decide to brave the cold, check the forecast for the time you'll be outside. Knowing the temperature, wind and moisture, along with the length of time that you'll be outside, is key to planning a safe cold-weather workout.

Be sure to check the wind chill index   in addition to the temperature. Wind chill extremes can make exercising outdoors unsafe even if you dress warmly. Any exposed skin is subject to frostbite.   And the wind can go through your clothes and remove the insulating layer of warm air that surrounds your body. If it’s too cold and winds are high, it might be wise to choose an indoor activity instead.

Learn to Layer

People often overdress to exercise in cold weather. Exercise generates a considerable amount of heat — enough to make you feel like it's much warmer than it really is.

The evaporation of sweat, however, can make you lose heat from your body and feel chilled. Some stop-and-go activities, such as mixing walking with running, can make you more vulnerable to the cold if you work up a sweat and then get chilly.

So how should you dress to combat the cold? Dress in layers that you can take off when you start to sweat and then put back on as needed.

Start with a thin layer of synthetic, wicking material that draws sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton. It stays wet next to your skin. Jackets and tops with zippers allow for more air flow and venting as you start to heat up.

Next, add a layer of fleece or wool for insulation. Top this with a waterproof, breathable outer layer. Find a combination of clothing that works well for you.

Winter Hydration

Does your body need as much water when the temperature drops? Yes. Your body loses water during cold weather the same way it does in warm weather — through regular bodily functions like breathing, urinating and sweating.

Are you getting enough water? Check the color of your urine. Light yellow or clear urine means you are well hydrated. Darker yellow urine indicates you need more liquids.

If you frequently feel thirsty, have a dry mouth, can’t focus, are light-headed, feel tired and have dry skin, you may need to drink more fluids. Check with your doctor if you continue to have problems.

Keep in mind that intense exercise like hockey, sledding, skiing and snow shoeing are as strenuous as hot weather activities. Take breaks to hydrate.

Check with Your Doctor

Almost everyone can exercise safely during cold weather. But if you have certain conditions, such as asthma, heart problems or Raynaud's disease,   check with your doctor before you work out in cold weather.

And if you’re starting to exercise for the first time in a while, talk with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough.

Don’t let the winter weather stop you from achieving your health goals. You can be fit and fabulous in all four seasons!

Sources: Wind Chill Safety,   National Weather Service; How to Prevent and Treat Frostbite,  American Academy of Dermatology, 2021; How to Dress for Winter Outdoor Recreation,   National Ski Patrol, 2019; Are You Drinking Enough Water During Winter Months?,   American Heart Association, 2019; Raynaud’s Disease,   Mayo Clinic, 2020.

Originally published 1/20/2016; Revised 2021

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