[Updated November 2023]
Getting some daily outdoor exercise is just a lot easier when the sun’s shining and the birds are singing, isn’t it?
But while the cold winter weather may chill our enthusiasm for fitness, staying physically active year-round is very important. Among other things, regular physical activity plays a vital role in helping to ward off those winter blues, while supporting good overall health.
From choosing the right clothing for the season, to the right training methods, these cold weather tips will allow you to stay fit, warm, and safe as the days begin to shorten…
Dress for the weather
The most important thing when exercising in colder weather (or doing anything when it’s cold outside) is to dress appropriately. You’ll need to wear gear that fits properly and is suitable for whatever activity you’re doing. And it should also keep the chill at bay.
Layers trap warm air next to your body and help protect you from the elements (like rain, snow, and wind). Your cold-weather outfit should ideally consist of up to three different layers:
- A thin base layer consisting of body-hugging clothing to help insulate you, as well as take sweat away from your skin.
- A middle layer, like a fleece, to provide extra warmth if it’s particularly cold.
- An outer layer, to act as protection against harsher weather like wind and rain (think a windbreaker or waterproof coat).
For vigorous exercise in particular – like running or hiking – opt for layers that can be easily removed and added, so you can effectively manage your changing body temperature during the workout.
Dress ‘dry’, not just ‘warm’
One of the quickest ways to lose body heat is to get wet. Water conducts heat, meaning it can easily draw away the warmth from your body, leaving you cold and miserable.
Not only will this make your workout a lot less pleasant, but it can also pose a danger to your health.
We recommend skipping cotton – which doesn’t insulate well when wet – and opting for wool or synthetic activewear (like polyester or nylon) instead. These materials do a better job of maintaining your body temperature even when wet, and also work to wick away moisture.
Visibility is key
Poor visibility when it’s raining, snowing, overcast or dark makes it tougher for other people and vehicles to see you. Brightly coloured and reflective clothing is a much better and safer option all around. Wearable torches also help others to see you and can improve your own visibility, too, which helps to prevent trips and falls.
Protect your extremities
Your fingers, ears, nose, and toes are especially vulnerable to the cold. To help protect them, we recommend wearing a hat or face scarf, gloves or mittens, thick socks, and warm waterproof shoes. Once again, it’s best to opt for wool or synthetic materials for insulation, instead of cotton.
The right footwear
Winter workouts can easily become slippery – especially when it’s wet or icy outside. If this is the case, you should try to stick to gritted or dry surfaces, but it’s also important to pick out the right footwear.
Your trainers or boots should always be waterproof, to protect your socks and feet from getting wet. And if you’re walking or exercising in icy conditions, shoes with snow spikes will help to increase your traction and reduce the risk of injury.
Make it social
Whether you’re a fitness fanatic, or are just starting off, we all need a little extra motivation every now and then, plus a nudge from other people. Try these social tips to keep yourself going during the coldest months of the year:
Sign up to a challenge
Whether you’re embarking on the NHS Couch to 5K running plan, signing up for a half marathon in a few months, or taking up any other fitness challenge, having a goal can help to give structure and motivation to your routine.
If you’re actively preparing for an event, or are aiming to hit a particular milestone, it’s likely that motivation will be easier to come by on those chilly winter mornings.
Of course, many fitness events and milestones also involve collaborating and engaging with other people, which can be a much-needed additional nudge out the door, plus an effective winter wellbeing boost.
Meet up with friends
Some people struggle to exercise on their own and need a bit of company. Buddying up with a friend, or a group of friends, will help to keep you accountable and consistent even when you’re low on motivation.
You could also sign up for a local group fitness class, or attend a regular fitness-themed get-together, such as Parkrun, for a more social twist to keeping active. You might even make some new friends along the way!
Join a digital accountability group
Today, there are plenty of digital platforms out there that help to connect fitness enthusiasts and provide a bit of extra accountability.
Fitbit, for example, allows you to connect with your friends and compete to see who’s getting the most steps in each day. There are also countless online video-based fitness classes, that allow you to participate in a group workout from the comfort of your own home.
Take it easy
Striking the right balance between physical activity and rest is essential for maintaining a sustainable fitness routine, and taking care of your health and wellbeing.
To keep yourself feeling good and motivated, make sure to avoid overtraining, eat well, get good quality sleep, and make room for a bit of downtime, too.
As much as anything else, having something fun or relaxing to look forward to at the end of a workout can be a game-changer on a cold day!
Do some prep
Here are a few things you should think about before heading out on a cold winter’s morning:
Protect your skin
Winter isn’t just cold, it’s also ‘dry’. That’s because cold air holds less moisture than warm air, meaning it’s easier for your skin to end up drying out. To protect your skin, you should stay hydrated and use a moisturising lotion. Applying Vaseline to the tip of your nose, ears and nostrils may also help.
Here’s another surprising twist, too: you can still get sunburn, even when it’s cold and cloudy outside! The sun’s UV rays can still reach and damage our skin in winter, and – what’s more – snow reflects those rays and can magnify the effect.
We recommend applying sun cream, with an SPF of at least 30, to your face and any other exposed skin before heading out on a winter workout.
The importance of a good warm-up
It’s especially important to warm-up for a cold weather workout. Warm-ups increase the flow of blood, and the temperature of your muscles, which in turn reduces the risk of injury. Think of it like stretching an elastic band. A cold one will snap more easily. But, warm it up and it becomes much more flexible.
Exercises you can do when it’s cold outside
Walking and running
Walking and running are the easiest ways to exercise outdoors. As long as the weather’s not too extreme, all you need to do is layer up, put on your shoes on and hit the road or trail. Just be careful around uneven and slippery surfaces.
Think of hiking as a more scenic spin on a standard walk. It’s a great opportunity to bask in the beauty of nature, while getting your body moving.
Hiking is something you can do all year round, as long as the weather’s not too extreme and you pick your locations carefully. We’d recommend always going for safe and accessible locations, and planning your route before heading out. If you’re not already used to hiking, we’d also suggest sticking to flatter climbs before working your way up – literally!
Not only is cycling a great way to get some outdoor exercise, but it’s also an eco-friendly and low-cost way to get around! Cycling can be a good outdoor exercise option in winter – but it’s very important to be mindful of your route and to avoid icy and slippery roads.
As with all exercise, start off slow if you’re new to cycling. Go for straightforward and easy rides until you’ve built up your confidence.
- Make sure your bike is well-illuminated with lights and reflectors
- Wear plenty of reflective and hi-vis outerwear
- Get your bicycle serviced regularly and ensure it’s well-maintained to reduce the risk of damage or breakdown
Swimming at an indoor pool is something you can do year-round, regardless of the weather. Better yet, it’s also a very effective, joint-friendly and low-impact form of exercise.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the combination of regular breathing and repetitive motion can have a meditative, calming effect and may help to boost your mood, too.
Be sure to maintain your body heat when leaving the pool. Dress warmly, and wrap up to prevent yourself from getting too cold when you go back outside. And always remember to dry your hair before stepping out in the chilly air.
Exercises you can do at home
Despite all the suggestions above, there are bound to be days where the last thing you want to do is change out of your pyjamas, let alone put on some trainers and go running in the cold. Watching Netflix under a blanket is just so much more appealing. That’s why at-home exercises can be such a great option to ease you into physical activity. Here’s a quick list of some easy-to-do indoor workouts:
A simple skipping rope can be enough to give you a high-energy workout that gets your heart rate soaring, or it could be part of a more easy-going and playful exercise session. Either way, this is a great piece of equipment to have – just as long as you have enough space to use it!
If you thought hula hoops were just for kids, you thought wrong! This simple addition to your home exercise kit can help you work up a sweat, improve your coordination, and have a ton of fun!
Bodyweight training includes everything from cardio exercises (like star jumps and high knees) to strength movements (like squats and push-ups). The best part? In many cases, no equipment is needed! Check out some effective bodyweight exercises here.
At-home ‘walking’ and dancing exercises
While there’s nothing quite like an outdoor stroll, you can still hit your daily step goal from the comfort of your own home!
A quick YouTube search is all it takes to find a range of fun, at-home ‘walking’ and dance-themed exercise routines. Why not try this one for starters?
If you want a workout that can easily be done from home, and that can help improve your strength, balance, flexibility, and more – yoga is the way to go!
There are countless different yoga variations out there, offering more and less intense workouts, plus various great apps that offer guided sessions. Certain yoga studios even have online video classes.
The final word on exercising in the cold
Cold weather doesn’t have to keep you from being physically active, and it doesn’t have to make exercise excruciating! However you prefer to keep fit, there are great options available to help you stay active year-round.
So, why not try out some of the approaches we’ve covered in this article, and see what works best for you?
Staying active year-round can help you feel your best, and comes with plenty of great benefits for your health as well as your wellbeing. For some extra joint support to help you keep leading your most active life, why not try iMOVE? It’s our daily joint supplement for women and men, specially formulated to support an active lifestyle!