Don’t let winter weather freeze your workout motivation. Even when it’s cold outside, you can keep exercising. Just 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week can make a big difference.
Exercise doesn’t just help your body; it can help you focus and think — and help beat midwinter blues.
A daily walk is one way to start. Just be sure to add clothing layers if it’s cold out.
If you live in a snowy place, try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing for a workout and fresh air. If you can’t get out of town, you can add shoveling your walk to your workout routine.
And for those who want to keep it warm and toasty inside:
- Try yoga in a class or at home.
- Hit the pool or indoor track at your local community center.
- Spend the morning walking through your local mall or art museum.
- Bring the outdoors in at a rock climbing gym.
Don’t let busy days and cold weather keep your family from being active. You can find plenty of ways to stay fit this winter.
Check for Chilly Weather
There are some important things to keep in mind when you’re exercising in cold weather.
If you decide to brave the cold, check the forecast for the time you’ll be outside. Temperature, wind and moisture, along with the length of time that you’ll be outside, are the main factors to consider when planning a safe cold-weather workout.
Be sure to check the wind chill index as well as the temperature. Very cold temperatures or wind chill extremes can make exercising outdoors unsafe even if you dress warmly. Any exposed skin can be subject to frostbite in some weather conditions.
And it doesn’t have to be below freezing for you to be at risk from the cold. Hypothermia can happen with temperatures between 30 and 50 degrees. The wind can go through your clothes and remove the insulating layer of warm air that surrounds your body. If you or your clothing is wet with sweat, then the risk for hypothermia goes up even more.
If it’s too cold, choose an indoor activity instead.
Have Some Family Fun
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says young people ages 6 to 17 need 60 minutes of exercise daily.
Dark evenings and cold temperatures may make it hard to find an hour to work out as a family, but it’s well worth it. Staying active helps kids build strong bones and healthy muscles. And it can cut the chance of getting health problems like heart disease and diabetes.
Here are some fun wintertime family activities.
- Plan an active family fun day over the weekend.
- Walk around your neighborhood after dinner to check out the holiday lights.
- See who can be the first person in your family to meet a certain action goal, like working out five days in a week.
- Sign up for a charity run or walk. Train together for the event.
- Go sledding or ice skating together.
Learn to Layer
People often overdress to work out in cold weather. Exercise generates a large 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 motions, such as mixing walking with running, can make you more exposed to the cold. You repeatedly work up a sweat and then get chilly.
So how should you dress to fight the cold? Wear layers that you can take off when you start to sweat and then put back on as needed.
Check with Your Doctor
Most people can work out safely during cold weather. But if you have certain health issues, such as asthma, COPD or heart problems, check with your doctor before you exercise outside in the winter.
Cold air can be dry air, which can bother the airways of people with lung and breathing issues. This irritation can lead to wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. You can take steps to reduce the effects of cold weather on your lungs.
Stay warm and cozy: Plan to be inside on the coldest days. Keep your home warm, between 65 and 70 degrees.
Bundle up: Cover your nose and mouth loosely with a scarf. The scarf will help warm the air before it enters your lungs.
Keep your meds close: If you have asthma or COPD, have those quick-relief meds easily on hand in case you start to have symptoms.
Check air quality: Air pollution can be very high in the winter. Visit Airnow.gov to check your local air quality.
Flu, colds and other infections: Common winter infections can make breathing difficult. Try to avoid them — check with your doctor about getting a flu shot. And ask if the pneumonia shot is right for you. Remember to wash your hands often and avoid touching your nose, eyes or mouth.
Make sure to move.
If you’re starting to exercise for the first time in a while, talk with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough. But don’t just sit around this winter. Your body will thank you for every move you make.
Sources: Winter Fitness: Safety Tips for Exercising Outdoors, The Mayo Clinic, 2016; Weather and Your Lungs, American Lung Association, 2016; Physical Activity Facts, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018; Losing Weight, American Heart Association; Walking: A Step in the Right Direction, National Institutes of Health, 2017; Research Says Walking This Much Per Week Extends Your Life, BlueZones.com, 2018; Even a Little Walking May Help You Live Longer, American Cancer Society, 2017