Working out in winter

winter scene

There are two types of people in Minnesota: those who exercise outside in winter and those who think they’re outrageous.

I used to be one of those people who would yell, “What the heck is this guy doing?!” upon seeing someone jogging on snow-covered paths in 15-degree weather. Now I’m that guy.

I grew up with a family that tended to live by the phrase from a winter-themed cartoon, “I’m not going outside until the temperature is above my age.” When the sky was a dreary grey and the temperatures were below 30, exercising outside just didn’t feel like an option. Aside from the one-off ski and sledding adventures, we regularly stayed sedentary, indoors, from fall to spring.

Does winter weather make you hibernate? With snow-covered streets, temperatures in the teens, darkness in the early night and —let’s not forget to mention — sick colleagues, it can be tempting to stay indoors.

On official snow days and through bouts of negative 50-degree wind-chill temps, you may not leave the house from morning to night, or even for days at a time. A friend of mine recently told me that she didn’t leave her apartment for four days in a row.

Hiding out at home all winter can harm your health more than you may expect. Missing out on sunshine, social interaction and workouts can all add up, from lower vitamin D levels to upset circadian rhythms; from loneliness to depression; and achy muscles to increased appetite.

Let’s just say it’s good to get out.

So why now am I finally taking advantage of winter weather? With a little help from the mild weather through January, I discovered that exercising outdoors in winter isn’t that bad. While it looks intimidating, it’s actually invigorating.

I’ve come to fall in love with the Norwegian phrase, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Putting this into action has been easier than I expected it to be and has been lifechanging for my family and me.

My dad recently told me that I encouraged him to go outdoors more this winter than he has in 70 years of living in Minneapolis. My 91-year-old grandmother said the same thing. When the sun is out and you’re bundled up, it’s not so bad. The more you move, the more you warm up!

With as little skin exposed as possible, we venture out to the lakes for walks and jogs. As long as we can’t see our breath and the ground isn’t too icy, we try to make it outside briefly a few times each week.

Winter workouts can feel invigorating. There are many outdoor exercises you might want to consider.

From snowshoeing to sledding, ice-skating to building a snowman, playing in the snow brings out the kid in all of us. And give yourself credit for shoveling or even stomping through snow, which can both burn serious calories.

Aside from getting you out of the house, these workouts can help stave off winter weight gain, which averages 5–10 pounds each year, according to an AccuWeather interview with Rebecca Blake, senior director of clinical nutrition at Mt. Sinai.

Follow these tips from the Mayo Clinic for a successful and safe winter workout:

  1. Before you head out, check weather conditions. If there is a strong wind chill, you have an increased chance for frostbite. If temperatures are negative, it might be best to take your workout indoors.
  2. Try to go with a friend or family member. If you go alone, please tell someone that you are going to be spending time outside, the area you will be in and when you expect to return.
  3. Start out with a fully charged phone. iPhone batteries, in particular, diminish quickly in extreme cold weather. Within a few minutes, your device can shut down entirely. Keep it in a warm area such as a pocket as much as possible.
  4. Dress in layers and safety gear. Wear moisture-wicking materials underneath heavier, insulated gear. If you get warm, you will be able to remove layers. Protect your head, hands, feet and ears. Stay away from cotton fabrics, as these stay wet from perspiration and can make your skin colder.
  5. Wear shoes that have good traction. This could mean cleats or boots.
  6. Take care of your eyes and nose. Wear sunglasses to prevent dry, teary eyes. Bring tissues for a runny nose.
  7. Wear sunscreen. Spending time under the sun, even on cloudy days, can be dangerous for skin any time of year.
  8. Drink fluids before and after. Hydration is key for working out regardless of season.
  9. Know the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite. This can include numbness, redness or pain. Head home swiftly if you notice any of these. Know of some warm rest areas nearby that you can duck into if you need to.
  10. Limit workouts to 45 minutes or less.

To learn more winter fitness safety tips, visit the Mayo Clinic website. Be sure to check with your doctor before exercising in cold weather if you have any conditions such as asthma or heart problems, as you may need to take certain precautions.

Remember: Just because it’s winter, don’t neglect your exercise routine. Your body doesn’t care what season it is!

So next time want to snuggle up in your heated house with blankets in front of the TV, first head to your closet. Bundle up and go for a five-minute walk down your block.

For the rest of winter, I encourage you to explore more outdoors.