There's probably no better way to get healthy—besides eating well—than going for a run. It's great for your heart, it's actually much better for your knees than people once thought, and best of all—it's free! No gym required. But running in the winter? It's so, well, cold.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “You’ll catch your death of cold!” Luckily, the idea of catching a cold from being in the outdoors doesn't hold much weight. In fact, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has found that cold viruses grow best at about 91 degrees. So, what are you waiting for? Get outside, and get moving! You might even enjoy it.
Before you panic at the sight of snowflakes, consider the positives of cold weather exercise. Humidity is usually at its lowest, making longer workouts less taxing. You’ll also burn slightly more calories, as your body’s metabolism increases to keep you warm. Even better, a recent study in the monthly journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that marathoners of varying fitness levels all ran faster times in 40 degree temperatures than in 60 degree temperatures.
Dressing in layers is a great way to keep warm while you’re moving. Don’t worry if you’re a little cold at the beginning of your workout—you’ll warm up quickly. Here’s a general rule of thumb: aim to dress for 15 to 20 degrees above the actual temperature.
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Cover the Essentials
Hypothermia starts when your core temperature drops below 95 degrees. Considering that your core normally stays around 98.6 degrees, keeping this area warm is crucial. Next, focus on your hands. Mittens are preferable over gloves in the coldest temperatures, as your fingers retain heat better when they’re touching.
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10°F to 20°F: Same as above but consider wearing thicker socks and a neck gaiter. Try to limit the amount of exposed skin, especially in windy weather.
Anything below 10°F: Frostbite is a serious risk in temperatures below 0°F. Be smart, and hit the (indoor) gym.
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Leave the Hat?
While many believe most of your heat is lost through your head, this is not necessarily true. The amount of heat you lose is related to how well other parts of your body are covered. In other words, a hat alone won’t keep you warm. As long as your core, feet, and hands are sufficiently covered, you should be okay.
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Don't Forget to Hydrate
You may sweat less in colder weather, but you still need to drink plenty of water. Cold air tends to be drier, meaning your body has to work harder to humidify air as you inhale it. When you can see your breath, that’s actually moisture leaving your body. So, make sure to drink water throughout the day—even if you don’t feel thirsty!
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Beat the Sunset
Setting your clock back at the beginning of November means an earlier sunset and shorter days. If you work a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job, squeezing in a workout before it’s dark can be tough. Consider waking up earlier (only for a few months!) and exercising before work. If you run in the dark, be sure to wear bright colors, reflective gear, or clip-on lights, and stick to the sidewalk when possible.
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Warm Up Properly
If you’re doing an intense workout, making sure your muscles are properly stretched and warmed up is key to injury prevention. Dynamic stretches, such as leg swings, and an easy jog will help with muscle stiffness in chilly weather.
Running on fresh snow can be a lot of fun. Ice and firmly packed snow are a different story. You’re less likely to lose your footing and slip on freshly fallen snow. Take it slow, pay attention to where you’re stepping, and watch out for holes or other hazards. Walk across icy patches, and wear shoes with a good tread, such as trail running shoes if you have them—or invest in a pair of running cleats.
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Try a New Exercise
If you truly despise working out in the cold, it’s not the end of the world. Instead, take the next few months to try a new exercise routine. If you normally run outside, try a spin class. Strengthening lesser-used muscles will help keep you injury-free when you return to your normal routine. Swimming laps in an indoor pool, taking a yoga class, or joining a gym to strengthen and condition your core are all great options.