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jogging in winter

Now that temperatures are getting cooler, many of our patients halt their outdoor workout routines (running, walking, outdoor sports) to avoid the chilly temperatures.  While it’s tempting to take the cold weather months off and simply curl up by the fireplace with a good book or binge a series, the truth is there are many benefits to working out in colder temperatures.

What Are The Benefits Of Working Out In Cold Weather?

Studies have shown that working out in colder temperatures can actually improve your endurance and boost your metabolism. This is because your body needs to work harder to perform in colder temperatures to generate enough heat to keep your muscles and organs warm.  The result is burning more calories while performing the same tasks in warmer temperatures.  While working out in the heat causes you to sweat and become exhausted more easily, cold-weather workouts usually enable you to go longer without those factors, allowing you to build endurance and stamina. 

Moreover, getting a dose of sunlight when working out outdoors provides a dose of Vitamin D and a release of endorphins, both of which improve your mood and can help fight against Seasonal Affective Disorder (which can cause depression in the darker winter months). Studies have also shown that people who exercise in the cold experience improvement in decision-making, focus, and memory.

When is it too cold to exercise outside?

While the ideal cooler temperature to work out in is around 50 degrees, the American College of Sports Medicine has stated that “exercise can be performed safely in most cold-weather environments without incurring cold-weather injuries. However, they recommend avoiding an outdoor workout in wind chill temperatures lower than -18 degrees.

What are the best outdoor exercises in cold weather?

All “cardio” or aerobic exercises like running, fast walking, jogging or cycling (assuming the wind isn’t too uncomfortable) are great, as well as sports such as ice skating, ice hockey, snowshoeing, or skiing and snowboarding.

How to avoid injury with cold weather sports

Warming up before working out in the cold or participating in cold-weather outdoor sports is extremely important since cold muscles and ligaments are more prone to injury.  Stretches that are static (moving) vs. standing still are most beneficial, to keep your body fully active while you warm up. Before a winter workout, experts recommend the following to prime muscles and avoid strains:

  • arm circles
  • arm swings
  • high steps
  • air squats 
  • lunges (side, back, and forward) 

Is Exercising In Cold Weather Safe?

It is very important to dress smartly to protect yourself from frostbite. Cold-weather workout clothes should include dressing in layers so you can take off a top layer if you start to get too warm. If the terrain could possibly be icy, be sure to wear footwear with good traction. 

Protect your hands, face, and feet the most, as your extremities are the first to respond to the cold (because your body protects the heart first).  Be sure to wear gloves, a hat, and warm, moisture-wicking socks that wick moisture away. Look for signs of cold-related injury (such as numbness, clumsiness, and very red, cold skin), and return home if you see any of these signs.

Hydration is also key.  Because we sweat less in cooler temps and, as a result, feel less thirsty, we often forget to drink enough water. Be sure to drink water or other hydrating liquids before, during, and after your cold-weather workout.

If you have a history of cardiovascular disease, check with your cardiologist first before engaging in an outdoor cold-weather exercise routine.

Key Takeaways

In general, getting outside and exercising in cooler temperatures is a great way to boost your endurance, metabolism, and your spirits. Just take care to dress properly, warm up well and hydrate frequently to avoid injury. However, after your workout, you can still enjoy that book or binge-worthy series by the fire.

If by chance, you have suffered an injury related to outdoor exercise, OrthoConnecticut is here to help! With offices in Danbury, Ridgefield and Southbury, Danbury Orthopedics is the area’s premier multi-specialty orthopedic practice. The Sports Medicine Center at Danbury Orthopedics is dedicated to the complete care of the athlete -- from professional, collegiate and high school athletes to recreational, youth players and weekend warriors. The Sports Medicine Center specializes in sports injury treatment and rehabilitation through both surgical and non-surgical techniques. The team of four fellowship-trained Sports Medicine Specialty Physicians include: Dr. Michael G. Brand, Dr. Angelo Ciminiello, and Dr. Ross Henshaw. Walk-in orthopedic urgent care services for injuries are also available at the group’s OrthoCare Express location at 2 Riverview Drive at Berkshire Office Park in Danbury, open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends.

Contact us today to learn more or to make an appointment.