Tips for a Safe ?Outdoor Winter Workout

You burn more calories when you exercise in the cold, so take advantage of the winter months for outdoor exercise

Cross-country skiing is a great way to exercise outdoors in the winter

Don’t let the cold, damp weather prevent you from keeping up with your outdoor winter workout

Fresh air, exercise and sunshine can still be enjoyed on cold days; it just requires a little extra preparation and awareness. Plus, there’s a bonus – you burn more calories when you exercise in the cold. 

Before You Go Out

  • Consider wind chill. Wind penetrates clothing, reducing the insulating layer of warm air around your body. Even moving quickly (e.g., skiing or running) can generate wind chill. For example, when the temperature is -12.2°C and the air is calm, skiing at 32 km/h creates a wind chill of -22.8°C. Consider exercising indoors if the temperature is below -17.8°C (0°F).

  • Wear sunscreen and sunglasses. Winter sun (especially if coupled with snow conditions) can lead to sunburn. Use SPF 30 sun protection on your skin and lips, and protect your eyes from sun and snow glare by wearing quality sunglasses.

  • Dress in layers. Wearing layers of clothing helps trap warm air around the body, plus it allows you to remove layers as needed when you get too hot. Underclothing should be made from synthetic fibre (e.g., polypropylene or polyester), which prevents moisture buildup by wicking sweat away from the skin, thereby keeping you drier (avoid cotton clothing as it holds moisture). One layer of clothing should be made from wool, which retains heat even when wet. If wool irritates, choose fleece or a synthetic pile. The top layer of your clothing should comprise a waterproof and wind-resistant jacket and pants. Clothing should be loose fitting as impinging on circulation can lead to frostbite.

  • Cover all exposed areas. Wear a warm hat and mittens. Note: Mittens provide less surface area for heat to escape because the fingers are in contact with each other.

  • Wear the right footwear. Appropriate footwear for your activity or sport is critical. Winter shoes should have good tread; removable cleats that strap onto the bottom of your boots can provide extra traction on ice and snow. Wool, Orlon or acrylic socks are preferable to cotton as they keep sweat away from the skin. Wool also retains heat should your feet become damp.

  • Wear the appropriate safety gear. Always wear a CSA-approved helmet designed for your sport (e.g., skiing, skating, snowboarding or snowmobiling). If you’re out after dark (e.g., an evening run), wear reflective materials to ensure you’re seen.


While You’re Exercising Outside

  • Warm up. Cold temperatures cause muscles to become tight and therefore more prone to injury. Do a thorough warm-up prior to your exercise.

  • When running, begin by heading into the wind. After you’ve worked up a sweat, you won’t get as chilled if you end 
your workout with the wind at your back.

  • Notice the way you breathe. Cold air can cause chest discomfort or 
asthma symptoms. If breathing becomes difficult or your chest feels 
tight, head indoors.

  • Stay hydrated. Drinking water during winter exercise is important. You can become just as dehydrated in winter as in summer through sweating, breathing and increased urine production.
Stay dry. Dampness increases heat loss, so change your clothing when convenient. Putting extra clothing over wet clothes can help save some 
heat until you can change.

Safety Tip
s for Outdoor Winter Workouts

  • Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Warning signs of frostbite include paleness, numbness or a stinging sensation on the face, fingers or toes. Go indoors immediately. Slowly warm the area without rubbing. Get emergency care if numbness persists. Symptoms of hypothermia include intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of co-ordination and fatigue. Get immediate emergency help. To prevent problems, warm your hands and feet every 20 to 30 minutes, and know when to head indoors.

  • Don’t remove your clothing immediately upon returning indoors. Allow your body time to adjust before removing your clothing layers. Post-exercise hypothermia can occur if your body loses its heating stores too quickly.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.