Just because the weather outside is frightful and the fire so delightful, you don’t have to recline on your sofa and eat another cookie. In fact, winter can be an excellent time to get outdoors and exercise. You just need to make sure you’re prepared.
Exercising in the winter, whether it be a 30-minute jog or a more elaborate hike, takes more planning than it does in the summer time.
The first thing you need to do, according to Ryan Griffin, personal trainer at Gold’s Gym in Manchester, is stretch and warm up before you go outdoors.
“Often when it is cold outside you don’t spend the adequate time warming up and getting your body temperature to the right level,” Griffin said. “This can lead to your body tightening up, which creates a better chance for injuries like pulled or strained muscles.”
Once you’re warmed up, you need to make sure you’re wearing the proper gear. Regardless of what activity you’re doing, the key is to wear clothes that keep the sweat away from your body.
“If the sweat is right up against your body it can lower your core temperature too quickly, which will make you susceptible to hypothermia,” Griffin said.
There are several clothing options that can help you avoid this. The most time-honored is wool. Griffin said wool is an excellent insulator that keeps the heat in even if it gets wet. Of course, most people aren’t going jogging in a wool sweater. Athletic brands like Nike and Under Armour have made great strides in products that wick sweat away, which keeps you dry even as you sweat. Some of these shirts or pants can be more expensive, so do a little research before shelling out the big bucks.
Another important safety step to take is to make sure your extremities are warm. While a traditional hat is often a culprit in keeping sweat in, Griffin said the alternative — not wearing one and losing all that body heat — is much more dangerous. And he said wearing gloves is important because the hands are a wonderful indicator. If your hands feel cold or numb, it is a good sign that your body temperature is falling and it might be time to get inside.
Another danger of cold-weather exercise is that your senses can be thrown off. You might attribute any aches and pains to the cold when in fact they are warning signs of an injury. This possibility can be lessened by proper warm-up.
Typically, when it is cold outside, people aren’t doing a lot of long runs. But they may hike or ski, which takes them outdoors for a long time, so it is also important to dress comfortably. You don’t want to have an itchy sweater on. At the same time, you’re not going to want to remove layer after layer as you go.
Personally, Griffin said he feels better when he has cold air in his lungs, which is why he loves running outdoors on a brisk day in the fall more than running on a muggy summer day. He also said sometimes the cold air helps him cool down.
One of the problems of exercising outdoors is that when you get inside it feels so nice to be warm. Sometimes, people just melt into their sofa or chair and soak up the heat, according to Griffin. But this can have them forgetting post-workout etiquette.
“Make sure you drink water, because even though you might not feel as thirsty as you do in the summer you’re still at risk of being dehydrated,” Griffin said. “Also don’t neglect your stretching and snack, like a protein shake.”
One of the problems with winter, besides the snowy or icy weather, is that it gets dark so early. When you get home from work at 6 p.m., it can feel like midnight, which makes it seem impossible to go outside and exercise. Griffin said if you need to exercise in the dark make sure you take proper precautions. He suggested wearing reflective gear or a head lamp — if you have a flashlight but need to flash it to alert cars that you’re coming, that can be dangerous because near the end of a workout, when you’re tired, you might not be as alert and prompt. You need to make sure cars and other potential hazards are aware of you even (or especially) at those moments.
This is another reason why Griffin suggested bringing along an exercise partner. He said not only will you get the benefits of a workout buddy, such as more motivation, but you also have someone there for safety. If you slip on ice or twist an ankle, you’re not alone, which can be especially beneficial at night.
Griffin said he hasn’t read any science about the positive effects of working out outdoors instead of in a gym. He said it really comes down to preference. He recommends that people mix it up, spending part of the week indoors and then going out on the weekends.
Since it is cold, you might need to vary your routine so you can maximize the benefits in a short time. So for example, if you’re working on your physique, Griffin recommended doing some sprints. This is an intense exercise but not a time-consuming one, although you’d definitely need to stretch beforehand.
“Take advantage of what New Hampshire has to offer,” Griffin said. “Go skiing. Find a new trail. You’ll see stuff that you wouldn’t even see in the fall or summer.”