Your Guide to (Outdoor!) Winter Exercise

Working out in winter

A quick run around the neighborhood or bike ride in the park seems like a good idea… until the cold air starts to sting your throat and your toes go tingly and nearly numb. Once the cold  weather starts to creep in, outdoor exercise may feel tough—and sometimes, downright impossible. But that doesn’t mean you have to endure the treadmill or a fake turf workout all winter long (if that’s not your thing).

In fact, you might even benefit from (safely) braving winter weather to take your workout outdoors: A few deep breaths of fresh air can boost your mood and productivity, and being in the sun can help you get some much-needed vitamin D (and most of us are deficient in the winter), according to Michigan State University

Here, Alexis Colvin, MD, Chief Medical Officer for the U.S. Open and a professor of orthopedic surgery at Mount Sinai, who is based in New York City, shares the best outdoor exercises to take part in the winter months, plus a few safety tips you need to know before heading out. 

The Best Winter Exercise Activities

According to the CDC, adults need about 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity per week. These cold-weather activities will help you meet that goal (and hit your Streak to unlock rewards!). 

  1. Skiing (downhill or cross-country)

Sure, gliding down a snowy mountain is fun, but skiing can also benefit your body and brain. The activity helps strengthen your joints and bones, according to the University of New Hampshire—and it’s what’s called a proprioceptive activity. That’s a fancy way of saying that skiing requires your brain to be aware of the effort it requires to move so many different body parts in order to get down the mountain. Doing these types of activities regularly can help sharpen your mind over time.

Meanwhile, cross-country skiing may be good for those who have knee problems and have been recommended to do lower-impact physical activity, Colvin adds.

  1. Snowboarding

“Snowboarding is a great exercise to work your core as well as balance and flexibility,” Colvin says. Plus, the activity requires you to stay in a squat position, which targets your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and even abs, according to Healthline

  1. Snowshoeing

If skiing and snowboarding aren’t really your speed, you might try snowshoeing. It’s just like hiking, except you’ve got snowshoes on, which adds a little weight (while still being beginner-friendly). It’s also a low-impact cardio activity, per Colvin. 

  1. Ice skating

If you’ve ever strapped on a pair of ice skates, you know that staying balanced on the ice is no easy feat. And the challenge is a good thing: Ice skating engages your lower body, building stability through the legs, according to New England Baptist Hospital. Plus, as long as you’re not jumping, it can also be a fun, low-impact activity that’s easy on the joints.

  1. Running

Assuming you’re bundled up appropriately (see below!) and the ground isn’t slippery from rain or snow, running can help you get your cardio in without much prep time or money. “Running doesn’t take a lot of special gear and can be done almost anywhere,” Colvin says. 

  1. Walking or hiking

Hiking and walking are great ways to get cardio in while enjoying the outdoors. And ICYMI, walking can also support weight loss, strengthen your muscles, and even elevate your mood. 

Safety Tips for Outdoor Exercise in the Winter

  1. Stay hydrated

It’s not just in your head: Cold weather actually makes you feel less thirsty. In fact, colder temperatures reduced thirst by up to 40 percent at rest and during moderate-intensity exercise in a small 2004 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. When working out outdoors, always bring a reusable water bottle along and remember to take sips—even if you don’t feel thirsty. 

  1. Dress in layers 

Dressing in layers can protect you from the chilly air and keep you warm and dry—and you can remove them if you start feeling too hot so the evaporation of your sweat doesn’t make you feel chilled. Colvin recommends wearing moisture-wicking fabrics rather than cotton because they prevent sweat from saturating your workout clothes and making you colder. 

  1. Wear sunscreen on exposed areas

Don’t forget to cover areas that can be prone to sunlight, Colvin reminds us. You can still get sunburned in the winter months, so choose a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen (with both UVA and UVB protection) with at least 30 SPF, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Slather it on your face, ears, hands and other exposed areas. And you’ll want to get a lip balm with SPF to help prevent burned, chapped lips. 

  1. Wear sunglasses

Snow reflects sunlight—and just as you’ll need to protect your skin with sunscreen, your eyes need sun protection as well. Too much sunlight exposure can harm your eyes and wrinkle the delicate skin around them, per Piedmont. So, invest in a pair of sports sunglasses that stay put during workouts. (Hint: Goodr shades are beloved by members of the Paceline community!)

  1. Do some conditioning 

“If you are going to do an activity that you don’t normally do during the year (such as skiing or snowboarding), pre-activity conditioning for several weeks leading up to the trip can help prevent injuries,” Colvin says. She recommends focusing on full-body workouts that include both cardio and strength components, such as a dumbbell HIIT workout, and adding in regular exercise for balance and flexibility, like yoga and Pilates. 

One last tip as you prepare to participate in all the activities winter has to offer: It’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor to see if exercising outdoors in the winter is safe for you, especially if you’ve got any underlying health conditions.

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