Walking Guide

Winter Workout Safety Tips

Depending on where you live, weather conditions can vary greatly throughout the year. If you enjoy exercising outdoors, the different seasons certainly bring their share of joys and sorrows. Who wouldn’t enjoy walking, running, or biking on a warm summer’s night, a fall afternoon, during a sunny spring day, or even amid the tranquility of an early winter morning?

For many of us, we are entering the coolest—okay coldest—time of the year. If you enjoy exercising outside, then the bitter cold of winter can be more than just an inconvenience. And no, the alternative doesn't have to mean hibernating for a few months, only to resurface with the buttercups in spring. By taking a few special precautions, and monitoring winter weather and conditions, it can be completely safe—and even enjoyable—to work out in the wintry outdoors.

Chances are you've heard the nightmarish stories of some climbers battling Mt. Everest or someone missing in the forest and their struggle with hypothermia. But it is important to know that hypothermia can happen outside of mountain ranges and national forests. It awaits every ill-prepared outdoor exerciser who dares to venture out when temperatures and conditions shout to us to stay inside.

Hypothermia, basically, is dangerously-low body temperature—below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It is a condition that occurs when your body loses more heat than it can generate in return. It is typically caused by extended exposure to the cold and can be brought on by being outside in winter without enough protective clothing or wearing wet (even sweaty) clothing in windy or cold weather.

When exercising outdoors in the winter, you should closely monitor your body and be aware if you are having any of the following symptoms:
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Pale, cold skin
  • Confusion
  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Slowed breathing or slowed heart rate
Don’t wait until you see all seven! When you recognize any of the above, it is time to go inside right away. Better yet, let’s avoid all of this. Here are some tips when exercising outside in the winter to avoid hypothermia:
  • Of course, dress appropriately for cold weather. In a nutshell: Layer, layer, layer.
  • Stay close to home. If you begin getting too cold, you can get back quickly.
  • Carry a cell phone in case of emergency.
  • Let friends and family know what you are doing, where you'll be going, and when you should be back.
Although following the tips above will keep you exercising safely through most winter days, it can still be unsafe sometimes—no matter what you are wearing or how conditioned you may be. It's best to stay indoors when the outdoors resembles these conditions:
  • Extremely cold temperatures with high winds. Wind takes heat away from your body more rapidly, making it more difficult for your body to generate the heat it needs already in very cold temperatures.
  • Extremely cold temperatures with rain. If you body gets cold—and wet—you're setting the stage for hypothermia to develop.
  • Ice. Icy roads and sidewalks are unsafe from an injury standpoint as they increase your chances of slips and falls.
Remember that completing a workout should not be a matter of life and death—no matter how committed you are. Take it indoors and use your favorite piece of cardio equipment, walk inside the mall, or do an exercise video. Being inside doesn’t have to be forever and you can do it if your safety depends on it.

Bear in mind that if you layer up, watch the forecast, and take some general safety precautions, you'll be pretty safe during about 95% of your winter workouts. (Enjoy the crazy looks you get from people!) For the other 5% of the time, enjoy the great indoors!
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Member Comments

Thanks. Good info. Report
I prefer the cooler months for outdoor exercise; easier to breathe. Report
Very good advice Report
Thank you for these great tips! Report
Don't wish it were easier. Wish you were better. - Jim Rohn ~ 3/8/18 Report
Thank you. Report
Use good judgement Report
I'll be walking indoors today. It's near zero here. Report
I love the cold weather. Report
My husband and I have been known to just tromp around up and down our driveway in really cold (to us Kansas wimps) weather - it's boring but we are safer the our neighborhood curves banking road that ices up really bad. The other thing I have noticed about these hyperthermia issues is that some (not all) of the symptoms are very much like the symptoms of dehydration. We tend to have dry cold in Kansas and it's easy to notice "cardiac creep" - even though we don't "feel thirsty", we are dehydrating because the cold dry wind just saps the water out of our bodies. (That's why laundry hung out to dry on the clothesline dries so fast! Sure, it is hard as a board, but once inside the house it softens up and it's dry!). So we have seen that we seem to last longer in the dry cold if we are careful to drink water often (and we don't seem to need to use the loo any more than usual...). Of course, if you have a medical condition and your doctor says to stay indoors and not drink as much water, then of course you need to do what is best for you. I'm just sharing some of our experiences. Report
Don't forget frostbite!!! Report
The dangers of ice and snow are all to real. My sister slipped and fell on ice that was covered by fresh snow. She broke her leg and needed two surgeries to insert a rod and screws. She was out of commission "workout" wise for almost two years because it took that long to heal. Be careful out there. Getting that run in is not worth serious injury. Report
I really get frustrated with a lot of the weather related comments…I live on the Canadian prairies where it has been -35 to -48 and our runners and snowshoe clubs are active daily.Its all in education and an investment in adequate winter gear and how to use it with full facial masks similar to snowmobilers but lighter.Exercise is a daily must here in preventing seasonal affect disease,depressio
n and just plain obesity, and let's face it my life here is winter Nov-April if we are lucky! Report
Too bad almost the entire winter here is extremely cold with high wind, snow and ice. Thank goodness for treadmills. Report
Walking Guide

About The Author

Jason Anderson
Jason Anderson
Jason loves to see people realize the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. He is a certified personal trainer and enjoys running races--from 5Ks to 50K ultramarathons. See all of Jason's articles.