Why You Should Work Out In Cold Weather: A Doctor Explains

The gyms are full, the sun has already set way before you've left the office, and there is little in you that wants to stay on your weekly exercise routine.

But before you call it quits and spend the rest of the winter cuddled up with Netflix, you might want to keep in mind that working out in the cold can actually be especially good for you — and it doesn't have to be hard.

What Are the Benefits of Working Out in the Cold?

1. You can burn more calories.

To start, the main way your body generates heat is through burning calories. That's why research shows that working out in the cold could lead to more calories burned for the same level of perceived physical exertion.

2. It can strengthen your heart.

Due to your blood vessels constricting to keep the core of your body warmed, your heart has to work harder to deliver blood to the periphery when you're out in the cold. This means that when conditions are warmer, you'll be more apt to perform better after training in the cold.

3. It can improve your mood.

Staying active outside can help stave off seasonal affective disorder, which is exacerbated by confinement indoors. Plus, getting some sun — even if it's just a little — can help you obtain vitamin D, which may be important for mood and happiness.

What Are the Risks?

Still, there are some risks to consider. For one, the extra workload on your heart can cause cardiac events in those not already in good cardiovascular shape. (If this is something that concerns you, consult with your doctor before heading out in the cold.)

Plus, research shows that cold weather can increase the risk of dehydration. Even though you won't feel like you're sweating, the cold has a drying effect on the body because of the lack of humidity. That makes drinking water and staying hydrated all the more important during the winter.

Finally, remember that it's slip and fall season — watch out for ice! — and the late sunrises and early sunsets put you at increased risk when running on roads.

Here are seven more tips to ensure you benefit from winter workouts and keep your health goals on track while still staying safe.

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How to Stay Healthy, Motivated, and Safe During Winter Workouts

1. Dress in thin layers.

We now know that wearing multiple thin layers of clothing is the way to go when it comes to keeping warm and dry in the winter, which is key.

Base layers of sweat-wicking fabric, followed by thermal layers, will keep you warm without allowing sweat to accumulate underneath. The pockets of air between layers also prevent drastic temperature differences between layers by acting as an insulator.

If jogging outdoors, don’t forget to top it all off with a clearly visible, preferably reflective layer to ensure that everyone sees you, particularly when the days are short.

2. Find a workout buddy.

When you have a partner to exercise with and you have a set schedule, it decreases the chance that your workouts will fall by the wayside in winter. Not only do you have an obligation to show up, but working out with a buddy can help motivate you as well as make working out a fun, social experience.

3. Warm up indoors.

Stretching is far easier when your muscles are warmer. So before you step out into the frigid outdoors, warm up with your usual stretching routine indoors first.

4. Wear a hat.

Did you know that 10 percent of body heat is lost from your head? A simple hat — even a thin one like those sold at sporting goods stores — makes a huge difference in keeping your entire body warm in cold temperatures.

5. Broadcast your workouts on social media.

When you show on social media that you're making healthy moves, it helps create a sense of pride and camaraderie among the #fitfam crowd. And who doesn’t want to bask in the admiration of others for your discipline and progress?

6. Stay hydrated.

Just because you don't sweat as much, it doesn't mean you aren't losing water at a rapid rate. The dry air in cold weather sucks the fluid from your body at an accelerated rate, making it extra important to stay hydrated in the winter months. Make sure you bring a water bottle to your workout.

7. Combine exercise with an activity you enjoy.

If you're having trouble staying motivated during the winter, find ways to get moving that you already enjoy — this can include anything from taking your dog with you on your run to ice-skating.

And if you'd prefer to stay indoors, try a fun new activity, like a dance class or an indoor sports league. Remember: Anything that elevates your heart rate can be exercise, including sex!

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