• UO Guide: Cold Weather Workouts

    Don’t let plunging temperatures scare you away from your daily regimen. Below we highlight some ways to get the best results from exercising in the cold—and the surprising benefits of doing so.
    Illustrations by Nick Massarelli

    Although the drop in temperature usually has us turning indoors for our daily exercise (well, this year El Niño has been "kind" to us with the warmer weather so far), we shouldn't think of winter as a time to spend as little time outdoors as possible. With the right weather conditions, gear, and mindset, exercising in the cold can not only be better for you physically, but also mentally.

    Health Conditions:
    First things first, if you have any health conditions such as heart problems or not-so-good blood circulation, you will definitely want to consult your doctor before taking a long sprint outdoors. For everyone else, you should be good to go.

    Weather Conditions:
    You'll want to check the current and near-future weather—and also maybe take a glance outside—before setting out on a long jog. The worst thing you can do is set out when the likelihood of icy conditions are high. If it's extremely cold with a chance of rain, that's just asking for an injury, or an embarrassing slip and fall at a busy intersection (believe us). And of course, if you're town is expecting something like a blizzard that day, well, stay put and do some lunges.

    The gear you put on yourself is quite important, and there's somewhat of an "art" to it. Your body, regardless of external temperature, will work to keep your internal body temperature at the essential 98 degrees no matter what. So the lesson here is to NOT overdress while still keeping everything covered. Your temperature will rise while being active, and you will sweat, but wearing too many layers can trap heat and moisture which would cause you to kind of overheat. The cold can do a good job of balancing this out.

    Basic outfits are simple to construct. For bottoms, you'll want to wear either a shorts and tights combo (or if you're feeling too macho you can revert to just calling them pants), or something easy like track pants. For the top, we usually spring for something like a long sleeve shirt and a wind breaker jacket. For sneakers, you want something athletic, comfortable, and with a little bit of traction just in case you do end up on some black ice. Also, you might want to spring for a half size bigger than normal to give you room for thicker, warmer socks. And since everything should be covered and protected somewhat from the elements (you lose most of your heat through your head and it's harder to keep your limbs as warm as your core), do not forget your beanie, gloves, and scarf.

    Remember, unless you're geared up for an exploration around the tundra, you'll be cold for the first few minutes outside. But once you get your heart rate up and your blood flowing, it will be quite a comfortable experience.

    There's plenty of science out there showing the mental benefits of cold weather workouts, from an increase of endorphins putting you in a better mood to an increase in neural cell production while exercising in cold (or extremely warm) conditions rather than indoor temperatures. But there are also plenty of physical benefits as well.

    One, you will actually burn more calories outside than you would indoors as your body puts extra energy into keeping you warm. If that wasn't enough on its own, you'll intake more vitamin D from being out in the sun (remember your sunscreen) and also experience cardiovascular strengthening as your heart works harder to promote blood flow. 

    So remember, warm up and cool down, regardless of where you're being active, and have fun with it. There are plenty of apps out there to help track your progress, but we're in love with this Withings Activite Smart Watch which easily tracks your steps, distances, speeds, and everything else you'd want to keep track of.

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