When the temperature drops, your workouts don’t have to stop

December 2012

Working out in the wintertime

Cold weather, brisk winds, and snow are easy excuses not to exercise. But skimp on winter workouts and you’ll greet spring with extra pounds, flabbier muscles, and less endurance. Plus, you miss out on exercise’s other health benefits — like extra energy and better sleep.

The truth is that you can continue to exercise during the winter and enjoy it, too. You just have to prep for the season’s conditions with the right clothing and information. Then, you'll look and feel fabulous when warm weather arrives.

You can still go outside

Yes, you can continue to exercise during the winter and enjoy it, too.

One winter option is to bring your workouts indoors. And there are many ways to do this including the gym, group exercise classes, workout DVDs, and power walking through the mall. That said, you can still exercise outdoors when the temps drop. Just follow these tips from the Mayo Clinic.

Wear layers
Dressing too warmly is a top, cold weather workout mistake. That’s because exercise generates heat and once your sweat dries, you can get cold. Instead, wear several light layers, which trap insulating air between them, and allow you to regulate your temp. First, put on a thin layer of synthetic material. This pulls sweat away from your body, as opposed to cotton, which keeps it next to skin. Next, add a layer of fleece or wool topped with a waterproof, breathable outer layer.

Protect your hands, feet, and ears
When it's cold, blood flows to your body's core to keep vital organs warm. That leaves your hands and feet at greater risk of frostbite, which is an injury or destruction of skin and tissue caused by cold. Ward this off by wearing heavier socks (buy exercise shoes a half to one size larger than usual to fit them) and mittens instead of gloves, because they keep hands warmer. For really cold days, wear a thin pair of gloves under mittens lined with wool or fleece.

Don’t forget your head
Fifty percent of total heat lost by your body can come from your head and neck, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Wearing a hat or headband will help protect your ears from frostbite, too. And if it’s very cold, try wearing a face mask or scarf to warm the air before it enters your lungs.

Warm up inside
Cold temperatures can make your muscles tight and more likely to be injured. So take a little extra time for a warm-up and gentle stretch before you head out the door. When your workout is finished, don't stand around in your damp clothes. Instead, go inside right away and remove them.

Drink plenty of fluids
Your body needs extra fluids when you exercise no matter what season it is. Drink water or a sport drink before, during and after your workout, even if you're not really thirsty. But stay away from drinks with caffeine or alcohol, which can cause your body to lose heat faster than normal.

Pay attention to the weather
The cold can be even more dangerous if you exercise when it's cold and raining. If you get soaked, it's harder to keep your body temperature warm enough. When the weather is at its worst with very low temperatures, extreme wind chill, or slick, icy conditions, you may want to move your exercise indoors for a few days.

Make sure you can be seen
In winter, the sun sets earlier so if it’s dark when you exercise outside cars may not be able to see you. Wear reflective clothing or use stick-on patches that reflect light so you’re more visible to drivers.

Know your area
The darkness makes it harder for you to spot dangers along your route. For example, if you’re running or walking, check out your path before you head out so you'll be aware of things like curbs and potholes.

Remember sunscreen
Yes, it’s as easy to get sunburned in winter as in summer, especially if you’re exercising in snow or high altitudes. Wear a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has SPF of at least 30. Also, use a lip balm that contains sunscreen and protect eyes from snow and ice glare with dark glasses or goggles.

Work up to long workouts
Don't try to do a long workout your first time out in the cold. Start with a shorter time period and then increase it gradually. Know when to head home and warm up and be sure to let someone know your exercise route and expected return time. That way, someone will know in case something goes wrong.

Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia
Early warning signs of frostbite include numbness, loss of feeling, or a stinging feeling. If you think you have frostbite, get out of the cold immediately. Slowly warm the area, but don't rub it because that can damage your skin. If numbness continues, seek emergency care. Hypothermia is when your body temperature becomes too low. Signs and symptoms include intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination, and fatigue. Seek emergency help right away for possible hypothermia.

Be safe
As the Mayo Clinic advises, if you have a medical condition such as asthma, heart problems, or Raynaud's disease, check with your doctor before you exercise in cold weather. Your doctor can help you take any extra safety steps you might need.

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