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Benefits and Strategies for Running in Winter

Many of us tend to blow off a workout session in the winter, especially if there is snow, ice, cold, or rain. Research has shown that many people tend to use the cold winter weather as an excuse to forego exercise. Outdoor exercise, such as running, can be very good for you in many ways. Running outside in the winter provides plenty of opportunities to increase your vitamin D exposure. It also helps you get the required amount of physical activity. Of course, you need to keep safety in mind while running in the winter months. Here’s everything you need to know about the benefits and strategies for running in winter.

Benefits of Running in the Winter

While there are several risks attached to running in cold weather, there are many benefits as well. Here are some of the benefits of running in cold weather:

  1. Running Increases Your Aerobic Activity:

    One of the biggest benefits of running in cold weather is that you get aerobic exercise. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shown that adults need to get an average of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or at least 75 minutes of intense exercise every week.(1, 2, 3, 4) Brisk running for even half an hour can easily help you meet these goals.

  2. Running Boosts Your Metabolism:

    The cold temperature has the benefit of increasing your metabolism and helps change your body composition.(5)

  3. Helps Burn Calories:

    A study carried out in 2014 found that men who were exposed to colder temperatures overnight for a month’s time experienced a dramatic increase in brown fat, which helps burn calories faster instead of storing them as white fat does.(6) So, if you are actively trying to lose weight or want to keep the weight off that you have lost, running in the winter could be the perfect activity for that.

  4. Running Is Great For People Who Suffer From Seasonal Affect Disorder:

    Running in the winter can help keep sadness or depression at bay. When the temperature plummets and the days get shorter, many people tend to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons and occurs in climates where there is less sunlight, as in the winters. Running releases powerful hormones that help fight against this type of depression and also increases the positive mood during the long months of cold weather. Running outdoors further boosts your mood even more. A study published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal found that people who exercised outdoors experienced more energy, lesser feelings of depression, and were more likely to stick to their workouts.(7, 8)

Tips for Running in the Winter & Precautions

However, running in winter is not as simple as just wearing your running shoes, putting on your jacket, and heading outside. You have to take some time to get ready and well prepared before your winter runs. Here are some tips to help you prepare for running in the winter.

  • Only Step Out After Checking The Weather Forecast: It is important to find out just how cold it really is. Also, check for any rain or snow, which could have a direct impact on the safety status of your running path.
  • Dress Accordingly: Whenever you are exercising outside in the cold, it is important to dress in layers. Wearing several layers of clothing means that you can gradually take off one or more of them as you start to get warmed up and begin to sweat. Then you can put them back on whenever you need to so that you don’t get cold.
  • Start Off Slow: If you have not been much of a runner until now, it is necessary not to fall into the trap of wanting to launch yourself right away. Resist the temptation to start sprinting immediately. Spend some time to build up your endurance over time.
  • Don’t Forget To Wear Something Reflective: If the weather is cloudy and gray, it might be difficult for some drivers to see you. Make sure to add some reflective tape to your running clothing or your jacket.
  • Remain Hydrated: Just because it is not hot outside, it is possible for people to forget to drink fluids. However, your body still needs water.(9) So drink some water before you start from home, and make sure to take a water bottle with you to have a drink along the way.
  • Proper Warm-Up And Cool Down: The important thing here is that you should warm up inside by doing some simple dynamic stretches like bodyweight squats, walking lunges, and leg swings before you start running outside in cold weather. It is easier to go out to begin your run if you are already feeling slightly warm. This will ensure that you remain warm enough so as to not get cold. You should also give your body some time to adjust and cool down at the end of your run before heading back inside.
  • Inform Someone About Where You Are Going: In case anything unexpected happens, it is necessary to inform a friend or family member where you are planning to run and when you will be back.
  • Be Mindful Of The Weather: Even while running, keep an eye on the wind and temperature and cut your workout short if you find the weather worsening.
  • Stop Immediately If Something Goes Wrong: If you start to feel lightheaded or your chest begins to hurt, or you think you might have pulled a muscle, do not continue to push forward. Immediately go back inside and call a doctor if you are concerned about the way you are feeling.

Running outside in very cold temperatures can be risky for some people.

This is why it is important to be aware of hypothermia and frostbite. Exercising in cold weather definitely has its benefits, but it can also put you at risk of hypothermia, a condition that occurs when body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). Take into account the wind chill when you get ready for running in cold weather. Wear plenty of layers and prefer to wear moisture-wicking clothing and, of course, limit any direct exposure of your skin to the cold.

While the body does a great job of maintaining a constant temperature, but extended exposure to the cold can sometimes overwhelm the auto-regulation mechanism of your body. Shivering is the first step the body uses to maintain its temperature. However, as hypothermia progresses, the body’s shivering mechanism may stop working, and people may start to get confused as the heart stops functioning normally.

Frostbite is another huge risk as it can cause permanent damage to the body as the nerves, tissue, and skin start to freeze at the site of injury. Your extremities, such as your feet, hands, eats, or the tip of your nose, are most vulnerable to frostbite. Frostbite can occur on any exposed skin in less than half an hour. The first signs of frostbite are usually numbness, cold skin, and clumsiness. The skin may also start to look discolored or turn black. Warm socks, gloves, and hats are all necessary when you go running in the cold.(10, 11, 12)

If you have a history of heart disease, you have to be extra careful when running outside in the cold. Exercising outdoors when it is very cold can cause a lot of strain.

Studies indicate that cold weather causes blood pressure to increase.(13) The combination of cold with intense or sudden exercise has been found to be dangerous for some people with a history of heart disease. Research has even shown that some people may get a heart attack after shoveling snow.(14)

Running outside in the winters can also put your lungs at risk. The combination of cold, dry air and prolonged exercise puts stress on your airways. Studies have found inflammation in the lungs of cross-country skiers who spend a long time outside exercising, as is the nature of their sport.(15) However, still more research is needed to determine the best way to measure and reduce the effects.

What To Wear To Go Running in Winter?

There is a popular saying in cold countries that exclaims that “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” This is why it is important to have good and proper clothing when you go running outside in the cold, and the air is frosty.

Remember that as you start running, you will start to warm up and begin to sweat. So keep this factor in mind while getting dressed. This is why it is recommended to dress in layers.

Here are some suggestions to help you plan an essential outdoor running wardrobe for the winter. You may vary some of it, depending on the exact weather where you live.(16, 17)

  • Running hat: Wearing a lightweight hat or beanie that covers your ears is important. This is a must-have. It is a good idea to select a hat made from fabric that absorbs moisture.
  • Gloves: In cold weather, your hands and feet are the most vulnerable to the cold and at high risk for frostbite. This is why you should never forget to wear your gloves or mittens, depending on which one you prefer. You can also wear a pair of thin gloves made from a fabric that wicks away sweat, and then wear a heavier pair of gloves or mittens on top.
  • Socks: It’s not necessary to wear cotton socks. In fact, it is preferable to choose socks that wick away sweat and keep your feet warm and dry. Many runners recommend wearing woolen socks.
  • Base layer of clothing: A technical fabric or wool should be the preferred choice for any long-sleeve shirts that work as your base layer and keep your body warm. Just like your socks, avoid wearing a cotton base layer as it can get and remain wet right next to your skin, increasing the chances of catching a cold.
  • Pullover: After putting on your base layer, wearing a pullover is a must. While many people prefer to wear wool, some like to go with fleece as well.
  • Jacket: This is another must-have layer for runners. Many runners prefer to don a wind-resistant jacket as their top-most layer. Depending on the weather, you can also choose to have a waterproof or water-resistant jacket. Whether or not it has pockets is totally your personal preference, but they can be a good place to stash some of your items and gloves if you need to remove them at some point.
  • Running pants or tights: Many runners prefer wearing fleece-lined legging to run outside in the cold. If you live in a very cold climate, you can further layer on a pair of tights under a pair of pants.
  • Running shoes: The importance of wearing good running shoes cannot be emphasized enough. Your running shoes should fit your feet correctly. If you wear thicker socks in the winter, keep that in mind and make sure your shoes accommodate your feet in the thick socks. It should not be a tight fit. Also, check out the bottom of your shoes. They should have sufficient traction to grip the road or trail. This helps prevent you from slipping if there is snow, rain, or ice.

If you are running in the daytime, don’t forget to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Many runners also prefer to wear eye protection like goggles or sunglasses to block the glare of the sun or from ice or snow.

How Cold Is Too Cold To Go Running Outside?

Winters at some places can be brutal when it comes to cold and freezing temperatures. To avoid frostbite and hypothermia, it is best to move your exercise routine inside if the temperature goes below 0 degrees Fahrenheit or if the wind chill reaches -17 degrees Fahrenheit (-27 degrees Celsius). It is unlikely that you will get frostbite when the temperature remains above 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius) and the wind is blowing at less than 25 miles per hour. However, the risk increases dramatically as the temperature falls and wind speeds go up. Exposed skin can develop frostbite in just 30 minutes when there is a wind chill of -19 degrees Fahrenheit (-28 degrees Celsius).

Conclusion

Running outside is a great way to get aerobic exercise in the winters, but it is important to prepare well and dress appropriately before stepping out of the house. It is also essential to start slowly and then build up your pace and duration gradually instead of just breaking into a sprint on the very first day itself. For those who want to go running outside in the winter, it is necessary to keep a close eye on the weather forecast. You can then decide whether or not it is safe to run based on the temperature, precipitation, wind chill, and road conditions.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022. Move More; Sit Less. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm> [Accessed 12 January 2022].
  2. TrainingPeaks. 2022. The Benefits of Winter Running | TrainingPeaks. [online] Available at: <https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/the-benefits-of-winter-running/> [Accessed 12 January 2022].
  3. Zenlabsfitness.com. 2022. 8 Benefits of Winter Running That Will Get You Moving – Home of C25K. [online] Available at: <https://www.zenlabsfitness.com/benefits-of-winter-running/> [Accessed 12 January 2022].
  4. Viral Rang. 2022. The Benefits Of Winter Running – Viral Rang. [online] Available at: <https://viralrang.com/benefits-winter-running/> [Accessed 12 January 2022].
  5. van Marken Lichtenbelt, W.D. and Daanen, H.A., 2003. Cold-induced metabolism. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 6(4), pp.469-475.
  6. National Institutes of Health (NIH). 2022. Cool Temperature Alters Human Fat and Metabolism. [online] Available at: <https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/cool-temperature-alters-human-fat-metabolism> [Accessed 12 January 2022].
  7. Thompson Coon, J., Boddy, K., Stein, K., Whear, R., Barton, J. and Depledge, M.H., 2011. Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environmental science & technology, 45(5), pp.1761-1772.
  8. Partonen, T. and Lönnqvist, J., 1998. Seasonal affective disorder. CNS drugs, 9(3), pp.203-212.
  9. Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. 2022. How Cold Weather Affects the Body During Exercise. [online] Available at: <https://www.froedtert.com/stories/how-cold-weather-affects-body-during-exercise#:~:text=Dehydration%20during%20cold%20weather%20exercise,by%20up%20to%2040%20percent.> [Accessed 12 January 2022].
  10. Biem, J., Koehncke, N., Classen, D. and Dosman, J., 2003. Out of the cold: management of hypothermia and frostbite. Cmaj, 168(3), pp.305-311.
  11. Britt, L.D., Dascombe, W.H. and Rodriguez, A., 1991. New horizons in management of hypothermia and frostbite injury. Surgical Clinics of North America, 71(2), pp.345-370.
  12. Fudge, J., 2016. Exercise in the cold: Preventing and managing hypothermia and frostbite injury. Sports Health, 8(2), pp.133-139.
  13. Ikäheimo, T.M., 2018. Cardiovascular diseases, cold exposure and exercise. Temperature, 5(2), pp.123-146.
  14. Auger, N., Potter, B.J., Smargiassi, A., Bilodeau-Bertrand, M., Paris, C. and Kosatsky, T., 2017. Association between quantity and duration of snowfall and risk of myocardial infarction. CMAJ, 189(6), pp.E235-E242.
  15. Sue-Chu, M., 2012. Winter sports athletes: long-term effects of cold air exposure. British journal of sports medicine, 46(6), pp.397-401.
  16. Healtheuniversity.ca. 2022. Dressing for Outdoor Exercise in Cold Weather | Cardiac College. [online] Available at: <https://www.healtheuniversity.ca/EN/CardiacCollege/Active/Exercise_And_Cold_Weather/Pages/dressing-for-outdoor-in-cold-weather.aspx#:~:text=Dress%20in%20Layers,-You%20can%20safely& text=keep%20you%20dry,your%20head%2C%20hands%20and%20feet> [Accessed 12 January 2022].
  17. Verv. 2022. How to Dress for Winter Workouts & Stay Warm. [online] Available at: <https://verv.com/how-to-dress-for-winter-workouts-stay-warm/> [Accessed 12 January 2022].
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 16, 2022

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