As far as I’m concerned, winter weather conditions are not for warm-blooded athletes. I know for me personally, once low temperatures become the norm, our Wilson tennis racket lives in the trunk of my husband’s car, and I move my running routine from the cold hard pavement to the treadmill until spring. For some reason unbeknownst to me, though, some athletes prefer chilly temps, and insist that their bodies thrive below 50 degrees, but is it OK to exercise outside when it’s cold? Is it safe? Personally, I’d rather appreciate snowfall and whipping winds through the window of a heated gym, but if there are actual benefits to getting your blood pumping outdoors when it’s brisk, then maybe I’d consider giving the change of scenery a fair try.
Finding the motivation to work out in general can be a struggle; throw a chance of snowy precipitation, frigid temperatures, and wind chill into the mix, and I don’t even want to step outside my house, let alone jog around the neighborhood. Plus, the winter season is also flu and cold season, so not only would you be subjecting yourself to uncomfortable cold weather, but wouldn’t exercising outside in the cold increase your chances of getting sick?
Before jumping into whether or not it’s safe to exercise in the cold, though, allow me to clarify that it’s not necessarily unhealthy to work out in the cold, because cold air and germs are not one and the same. You’ll definitely feel a literal chill, but according to Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, as long as you’re bundled up and you’re not heading out in subzero conditions, the cold can actually sometimes improve your health by kickstarting your immune system.
“Your immune system gets an extra boost with onset of colder weather, leading to a better ability to fight off infection [as] certain sub-populations of white blood cells actually increase in order to respond to bacteria, viruses, and systemic inflammation,” Glatter told Elite Daily back in December of 2018.
In other words, cold weather doesn't always harm your immune system. But, of course, that isn’t to say that, if it’s freezing outside, you should venture out into the chilly conditions just to get a workout in. In addition to regularly checking the outside temperature to make sure it's tolerable and not totally subzero, certified personal trainer and holistic nutritionist, Ashley Walter, says you should also try to keep a close eye on the windchill, as well as precipitation forecasts.
“The one big advisory to look out for isn’t outdoor temperature, but windchill below freezing [because] windchill brings on frostbite and that can’t be prevented, no matter how warm we dress,” Walter tells Elite Daily. “Skip the precipitation like freezing rain, too. Snow is actually fine if you have shoes with good traction.”
What’s awesome about winter is that the season has its own sports, like skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and hockey, that are tailored to the cold weather conditions. So for the adrenaline junkie, these types of activities might make for some perfect outdoor workouts during this time of year. Of course, if you'd prefer to keep things simple, Liana Hughes, a NASM-certified trainer and coach for the live-fitness app, Gixo, says walking and running are also great wintertime exercises because the cardio gets your heart rate up, and you can perform these kinds of routines virtually anywhere.
“If you have a patio or even the park or driveway, a quick HIIT workout can deliver great results and get you back in the house in a shorter amount of time,” Hughes tells Elite Daily over email. “Just always check for snow or ice if you are outdoors to prevent falls and injury.”
As for the different types of workouts that should probably be avoided or moved indoors during the winter months, lengthy yoga practices, long walks, and really anything that requires you to be outside and/or stay still for long periods of time, are a no-go, says Walter. Overall, the key is to listen to your body. If something doesn't feel right, there's probably a reason.
So is it OK to exercise outdoors when it’s cold out? Yes. Do you want to work out outside when it’s cold? That, my friend, is a question that only you can answer. If you are going to venture out into the cold to give your immune system a boost, more power to you. Just remember to dress accordingly — aka warmly and appropriately, while keeping in mind whatever activity it is that you choose to do. For example, if you’re a runner, Shannon Spake, Fox NASCAR host, co-host of NASCAR Race Hub, and sideline reporter for NFL on FOX, tells Elite Daily that wearing two pairs of gloves — one light pair, with a heavier pair on top — can help to keep your hands and fingers safe from the chill. Spake also notes that wearing shoes with as little ventilation as possible might be a good idea, so as not to let any extra air or slush from the snow in.
Clothing is, of course, important to consider, too. Hughes warns that anyone exercising outdoors this winter should try to avoid cotton altogether because, when it gets wet, it stays wet. She suggests wearing “a long-sleeve base layer shirt [made] of synthetic wicking material, such as Dri-FIT, Thinsulate, Thermax, CoolMax, polypropylene, or silk,” with a pair of tights or running pants made of similarly wicking material. Overall, she explains, the key is to stay warm, and layer up so that, when your body does heat up, you can shed clothing accordingly and stay comfortable.