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6 Exercise Tips to Keep You Moving in Cold Weather

When many of the leaves have fallen and Jack Frost is nipping at your nose, getting outside for exercise can be hard — even for the hard-core enthusiast. 

Cold days and long nights during the winter months push many people indoors for the season, but there are many reasons to get outdoors for some fresh air and a cold weather workout.

Exercise can boost your emotional well-being and energy, ward off the winter blues (also known as seasonal affective disorder), and help prevent winter weight gain that can happen during the holiday season. 

“Cooler temperatures also allow you to participate in many fun outdoor activities, such as skiing, snowboarding and hiking, and generally doesn’t result in problems until temps are below freezing,” said Steven Erickson, MD, a sports medicine physician with Banner Health in Phoenix, AZ. 

Don’t let the chilly weather hold you back. Here are six cold-weather exercise tips to stay safe, warm, fit and injury-free this winter season. 

Tip #1: Layer up

Wearing the right clothing is important during outdoor exercise, but you don’t want to overdo it (or overheat!) by dressing too warmly in the winter. Layer your clothes so that you can take them off as your body warms up and you start to sweat. 

Dr. Erickson recommended the following layers:

  • Inner layer (the layer closest to your body): Wear a polyester fabric that allows the wicking (or moving) of moisture away from the body. Avoid cotton fabric, which can stay wet and cold. Getting wet during your cold-weather workout will likely cause you to call it quits earlier, but you may not be able to keep your core body temperature up, putting you at greater risk of hypothermia
  • Middle layer: Wear a heavier layer, ideally wool, synthetic or down, to insulate the body and trap body heat.
  • Outer layer (the layer furthest from your body): Wear waterproof and breathable fabric to protect you from wind, rain and snow.

[Also read “Six Tips for Dressing Your Kids for Cold Weather.”]

Tip #2: Protect your feet, head and hands

In the summertime, you might not think much about protecting your head, hands and feet from the elements. In the wintertime, however, your limbs are especially important to protect to help prevent skin damage or frostbite.

Your hands, toes and ears are especially susceptible to frostbite, so it’s important to cover your ears with a hat or headband, wear gloves and have on proper footwear.

“Ideally you’ll want waterproof shoes if the outdoor weather calls for rain, snow or ice and a pair that has sufficient tread to prevent slipping and falling on wet surfaces or ice,” Dr. Erickson said. “As well, consider buying a slightly bigger pair of shoes so you have plenty of room to wear thicker or heavy thermal socks.

If it’s really cold and windy outside, consider a scarf or ski mask to protect your face.

Tip #3: Wear sunscreen

Sunscreen is just as important in colder weather, especially with snow on the ground, which reflects the sun rays and can result in a sunburn. Wind exposure can also result in windburn, so cover your face and ears to protect your skin from both elements.   

When considering a sunscreen, opt for barrier or physical sunscreens of at least SPF 30 that have active zinc oxide or titanium oxide ingredients, as these are good for all skin types.

[Also read “Selecting the Best Sunscreens and Protecting Your Skin.”]

Tip #4: Drink plenty of water

“When exercising in the cold, winter months, you don’t receive the same thirst signals, which can lead to not drinking enough during your workouts and becoming dehydrated.

“It’s just as important to hydrate during exercise even when you aren’t sweating as much as we do during the summer months,” Dr. Erickson said.

Tip #5: Plan ahead

Check the weather forecast and know what you’ll be up against when you step outside. Pay attention to the temperature, wind and moisture level. It may mean you change the time of day you typically do your workout.

“In summer months, it’s common to work out at dusk or dawn in order to avoid the high temperatures associated with midday, but these times of day tend to be colder in the winter,” Dr. Erickson said. “After dark, temperatures drop quickly and can put you at risk of injury due to the cold.”

Tip #6: Watch for signs of frostbite or hypothermia

Frostbite is damage to skin and tissue caused by extreme cold. It happens when the skin, nerves and blood vessels below the top layer of the skin freeze. Symptoms of frostbite include a change in skin color, which becomes whitish or pale, cold, numb and painful.

[Also read “3 Essential Things You Need to Know About Frostbite.”]

Hypothermia is an extremely low body temperature, and older adults and children are at a higher risk for it. Signs and symptoms include intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination and fatigue or weakness.

“We think frostbite in cross-country skiers and hunters, but it is actually common in joggers,” Dr. Erickson said. “Prevention as shared above is key, but you should seek immediate medical attention if initial rewarming doesn’t resolve your symptoms.”


Don’t let the cold weather wreck your outdoor workout. With a little planning, you can experience the great outdoors in the winter while engaging in heart-healthy exercise.

If you’re new to exercise, speak with your health care provider before jumping into a new routine.

Schedule an appointment with a primary care provider.

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