Exercising in winter can sometimes seem like an impossible task. The days are short, so much so that some of us start and finish our work day in the dark, never witnessing daylight. Motivation can be difficult to find. With this in mind, it is never more important to engage in regular physical activity to boost mood and enhance wellness. Finding some time to exercise outdoors can be especially rewarding in the winter months, but it is important to do it right!

Firstly, it is important to be aware of the impact of cold temperatures on our physiology, so that we can adjust our plans and expectations accordingly. Exercising in cold weather brings about some unique physiological demands. Exposure to cold temperatures can cause a drop in core temperature. To prevent a core temperature decrease to unsafe levels, blood flow is directed away from the arms and legs, which has implications for exercisers. Studies have demonstrated an increase in oxygen and carbohydrate consumption and minute ventilation during endurance exercise at temperatures below 39oF. Strength and power also decreases in anaerobic activities. These changes are thought to be associated with colder skin and muscle temperatures.

Most cold-related distress is a result of prolonged exposure to with inappropriate clothing. It is therefore it is important to find the right combination of clothing and take appropriate precautions to maintain a comfortable level of warmth in colder conditions, including:

  • Wearing light, moisture-wicking layers (avoid cotton) and wind protection where necessary. Layers can be shed as body temperature increases with exercise.
  • Warming up inside. Boosting body temperature before exposure to cold conditions can hasten the body’s adaptive responses.
  • Staying hydrated. Your body loses a large amount of water during exercise in the cold and dehydration can interfere with homeostasis.
  • Moving to a warm environment immediately after you finish exercising.
  • Most importantly, be sensible. Often it might make sense to stay indoors and modify workouts as necessary.

Be prepared and enjoy the winter!

By Erin Heard, ACSM-EP-C  Ridge Athletic Clubs Personal Trainer