Exercising Outdoors in the Winter

By Temma Ehenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
November 11, 2022
Exercising Outdoors in the Winter

Don't skip exercise in the winter. A real workout will maintain your core temperature. If you take precautions, cold weather won’t hurt you. Here's what you can do.

As the temperature drops, you may be tempted to give up outdoor activities in favor of a gym. Some people say they can’t make it to the gym or afford the cost, so they skip exercise for the winter. That’s unnecessary and a bad move. You can exercise hard even on a snowy mountaintop, as skiers know. 

But cold weather exercise is not just for the very fit. There’s no evidence that physically fit people adjust better to the cold. You also don’t have to spend more time to warm up just because it’s cold.

The real reason people are reluctant to exercise outdoors during the winter is their fear of the initial feeling of cold. The truth is that you’re not in danger if you begin moving. Your body will quickly adjust. 


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If you have asthma

Cold weather might trigger your asthma, but the actual problem is dry air.

In fact, if your nose gets runny, that means your nose is moistening to humidify the air you inhale. If you do have asthma, consider taking medication whenever you exercise in dry air and in the cold. You can wear a face mask, scarf, or ski mask to cover your mouth; your exhaled breath will moisten the air.

Ice skaters exposed to chemicals on the ice surface may have more problems with asthma. 

If you have heart problems

Any real workout will maintain your core temperature. People with heart problems or poor circulation in their hands and feet might check with a doctor first. (If you’ve been sedentary or have health problems, you should always check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine.) 

Don’t overdress

You want to be cold at first, not comfortable. Remember that you’ll quickly heat up, and sweat is not your friend. The biggest risk of hypothermia, when your core temperature falls to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, comes when you’re both cold and wet. Water transfers heat from your body 70 times more efficiently than air.

Once you sweat, you’re more in danger of getting too cold. 

The right clothing helps. Start with a synthetic layer to draw sweat away from your body, then a layer of warm fleece or wool, and a top breathable waterproof windbreaker. (You can remove the layers as your body temperature increases.) If you wear cotton, you could end up wet from sweat or falling in snowdrifts and be both cold and wet as soon as you stop moving.

Cover your head, fingers, and toes, but you can remove a hat temporarily if you’re getting hot.

Be more careful in rainy or windy weather. Both will make it harder for your body to maintain its core temperature.

Other precautions

Don’t push it by going too far away from your home base. Nightfall comes sooner in the winter. Turn back as soon as you or anyone exercising with you shows danger signs.

Numbness in an extremity, along with tingling or burning, could be the beginning of frostbite.

Shivering and confusion are bad news, as well; your core temperature may have fallen to 95 degrees or less, a condition called hypothermia. But don’t panic; you’ll be better once you warm up.

The true danger is when someone stops shivering. 


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November 11, 2022

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN