Five Tips for Winter Exercise

Don't let cold weather keep you inside

Winter's chilly temperatures and the risk of exposure to COVID-19 can discourage even the most active people from exercising. Don't let that, and cold weather, stop your fitness routine. Staying active, no matter the season, can help you improve or maintain your weight, health, and energy levels.

While you might hesitate to exercise in cold weather during a pandemic, it's generally safe if you take certain precautions. While wearing a mask and social distancing may be your number one focus, you should also pay attention to the signs of specific cold-weather hazards.

The effect cold weather can have

Breathing in cold and dry air can restrict your airway. This can make breathing more difficult and result in shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, a tight chest, and an increased risk of a heart attack. Wearing a scarf or mask can warm the air before it enters your lungs, and help you breathe easier. However, if you have asthma or heart problems, you should ask your doctor about any precautions you need based on your health or your medications.

Stay warm and safe

Since the other two risks of exercising in the cold are frostbite and hypothermia, try these tips to stay fit, motivated, and warm:

  1. Mind your head, hands, and feet: You lose heat through your head, so be sure to wear a hat. Insulate your feet with warm thermal socks. Choose mittens over gloves since your fingers will warm each other. You can wear thin gloves under heavier mittens so you can remove a layer if needed.

  2. Watch your step and prevent falls: Avoid slips and falls on snow or ice by wearing sturdy shoes with good traction.

  3. Stay hydrated: Be sure to drink water before, during, and after your workout, even if you don't feel very thirsty. Dehydration can be more difficult to notice during cold-weather exercise. If your lips are chapped, this means you need more water.

  4. Don't overdo it: Both cold weather and exercise put stress on your body, so start your exercise routine slowly and listen to your body.

  5. Dress in layers: Start by wearing a lightweight synthetic material, not cotton, to draw the sweat away from your body and dry quickly. Add another layer or two of wool or fleece for insulating warmth. Then top it off with a lightweight, water-repellent, and wind-resistant material.

Enjoy a safe, active winter season

As you brave the cold and the pandemic to improve your health, track your exercises to be sure you're not overdoing it. Veterans with a My HealtheVet account can log their daily physical activities online to share with their health care team. There's no need to take a break from physical activity when the temperature drops, but you should closely monitor how your body feels during cold-weather exercise to help prevent cold-weather hazards.

Please vote in our unscientific poll. All responses are anonymous.

Read More

Cold Weather Safety for Older Adults (National Institute on Aging at NIH)

Tips for Cold Weather Physical Activity (MOVE!) (PDF) 

Winter fitness: Safety tips for exercising outdoors (Mayo Clinic)

Updated November 29, 2021