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5 Tips for Exercising When It’s Cold Out

Sometime between when the leaves have fallen and Jack Frost begins nipping at your nose, you may want to snuggle inside in your slippers by the fire and never look at your running shoes again. Just because winter weather is here doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying the great outdoors.

Exercise can boost emotional wellbeing and energy, warding off the winter blues, and help prevent winter weight gain that can happen during the holiday season. “Cooler temperatures allow us to participate in many outdoor activities, such as skiing and hiking, and generally does not result in problems due to the cold until temperatures are below freezing,” said Steven Erickson, MD, a sports medicine physician with Banner - University Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Institute.

Dr. Erickson shared five cold weather exercise tips to stay warm, fit and injury-free this winter season.

1. Dress in layers

Appropriate clothing is important when exercising in cold environments, but you don’t want to be dressed too warmly. Layering your clothing can insulate your body and enables you to remove layers as soon as you start to sweat.

Dr. Erickson recommended the following layers:

  • Inner layer: A polyester fabric that allows wicking of moisture away from the body. Avoid cotton, which can stay wet and cold.
  • Middle layer: A heavier layer, ideally wool, synthetic or down to insulate the body and trap body heat.
  • Outer layer: A windproof material to avoid wind chill and water repellant if rain or snow is expected.

“You’ll also want to check the weather before you head outdoors and experiment to find the right combination of clothing for the activity you’ll be engaging in,” Dr. Erickson said. “For example, if you are skiing at higher elevation, you may need different clothing than if you are going for a jog or walk."

2. Protect hands, toes and ears

The hands, toes and ears are particularly susceptible to frostbite, so athletes should remember to cover their ears with a hat or headband, wear gloves and make sure to wear appropriate waterproof footwear and heavy thermal socks. If it’s very cold, consider a scarf or ski mask to protect your face.

3. Wear sunscreen

Even in the wintertime sunscreen is still important, especially with snow on the ground, which reflects sun rays and can result in sunburn. Wind exposure can also result in windburn, so coverage of the face and ears is important to protect the skin from sun and wind.

4. Don’t forget to hydrate

Hydration is still important during cold weather. Even when exercising in the cold, athletes need to hydrate at the same rate as with milder temperatures.

“When exercising, we still lose water through evaporation and perspiration,” Dr. Erickson said. “At higher altitude, water loss from the lungs increases due to increase respiration rates.”

5. Watch for signs of frostbite or hypothermia

Frostbite occurs when cold induces local blood vessel constriction and ultimately the tissues of the hands, feet, nose and ears freeze. Symptoms of frostbite include a change in the appearance of the skin, which becomes whitish or pale, cold, numb and painful.

Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature, and older adults and children are at a higher risk. Signs and symptoms include intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination and fatigue.

“We think of frostbite in cross country skiers and hunters, but it is actually common in joggers,” Dr. Erickson said. “Prevention as outlined above is key, but patients should seek immediate medical advice if initial rewarming does not resolve their symptoms.”

These tips can help you experience the great outdoors in the winter while engaging in heart-healthy exercise.

If you are new to exercise, speak with your health care provider before jumping into an exercise routine. You can find a qualified and experienced Banner Health provider near you by visiting

Fitness Wellness

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