Baby, it’s cold outside—but don’t let that stop you from heading out the door to work out. Exercise is perhaps even more important during the wintertime, when holiday parties (and indulgences) fill our schedules and beach season seems so far off. And outdoor exercise gives us exposure to vitamin D and a break from stuffy, recirculated indoor air. These easy adjustments to your usual workout regimen will have you staying fit all season long.
Even the most committed athletes face a motivational hurdle when the mercury drops and the days grow ever shorter. If you’re going to work out in the morning, check the weather forecast the night before and set out your exercise clothes, including any special gear for inclement weather (see “Gear Up,” below, for more). Knowing in advance that there’s a chance of snow or rain will let you mentally prepare for facing less than ideal conditions, and if your rain jacket is already set out with the rest of your clothes, you won’t have to scramble around in the morning looking for it (or using the fact that you can’t find it as an excuse to go back to bed).
Either before or during your workout, visualize a healthy reward waiting for you when you finish: a steaming cup of coffee, a soothing hot shower, or a big comfy sweater will be even more enjoyable afterward.
Chilly temperatures and icy, snowy, or rainy weather can pose a risk of hypothermia, so dress yourself in a base layer of wicking fabric—which draws moisture away from the skin and helps regulate body temperature—and then add removable warmer layers, which you can remove as you work up a sweat. When heading out the door, remember that your temperature will rise as you become more active, so it’s best to leave the house feeling a little bit cool, so you don’t eventually overheat. Cover ears, nose, and hands to avoid exposure and the risk of frostbite.
Because winter’s days are short, you may have to exercise in darkness or semidarkness. Reflective clothing and footwear will make you more visible to drivers, and a headlamp can help you see the path ahead of you more easily.
Warming up before a run or other outdoor workout will elevate your heart rate, increase your body temperature, and also help prevent injury and improve performance. Walk or slowly jog for 5 to 10 minutes before increasing the intensity. Whether running or cycling, try to stick to well-traveled, plowed roads, where snow and ice are less likely to accumulate, and always watch for black ice. If your schedule allows, try to work out during daylight hours, when you’re more visible to drivers and slippery surfaces are easier to spot.
Mix Things Up
Winter is a perfect opportunity to enjoy seasonal activities and provide a break from your usual workout regimen. Cross-country skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and even sledding torch calories and vary muscle groups, which may be just what you need after a summer of cycling or running. Cross-training will allow overused muscles to recover, and chances are when the snow and ice start to thaw come spring, your motivation to return to non-winter activities will be even greater.