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Cold weather tips for winter workouts

Staying fit in the winter can be a challenge, but it can also be a lot of fun. Snowshoeing, ice skating, winter hikes and outdoor walks are great options, as long as you’re dressed properly and keep safety in mind.

One thing to remember is that our bodies have to work harder in very cold weather.

“When we breathe in really cold air, our body needs to warm it up, and that in itself takes energy to do,” says Stephanie Naulls, registered kinesiologist with the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative at Women’s College Hospital. That means that whatever activity you’re doing is going to take more effort than it would in warmer temperatures.

However, many Canadian women don’t want to let winter ruin their outdoor workouts. Naulls offers these tips for staying active in the cold:

  • Dress in layers: You’ll need a really thin polypropylene layer that’s going to wick sweat away from your body, followed by a layer of fleece or something that’s going to keep you warm. Your outer layer should block the wind, but still allow you to move freely.
  • Hydrate: Remember to drink water even though you may not realize that you’re sweating. It’s important to hydrate yourself when you are exercising in the winter.
  • Know when not to go: Be aware of the line between braving the elements and putting yourself in danger. How cold is too cold? Reconsider outdoor workouts if it’s -17 C with the windchill.

    “If it’s -17 C with the windchill, it’s probably not the best idea for you to exercise outside. When it gets down to -27, that’s when frostbite can occur within 30 minutes or less on any exposed skin,” Naulls says. “Even though you may not like exercising indoors, or you really don’t want to change your routine, put safety first.”

  • Be safety conscious: “If it is really cold out and you’re going to be that daredevil and do it, take a route that you know very well,” Naulls says. Stick to areas where there are people around and where you’re visible, in case you slip and fall and need help. If you’re out in the dark, wear reflective clothing. Stay close to home, and consider doing several laps within a close radius of home rather than one long route. That way, if you do decide it’s too cold, you have a shorter route home.
  • Be alert for frostbite: Know the signs of frostbite, such as tingling, numbness in fingertips or in exposed areas like the nose or the ears, or your toes if you’re not wearing appropriate footwear or socks that are going to keep you warm (fleece or wool socks are a good choice).
  • Change immediately: When you come in from exercising outside, take off your sweaty clothes right away – otherwise you risk getting sick. If you don’t have time to shower, the shower can wait, but you do need to get those sweaty, cold clothes off your body.
  • Start indoors: Winter may not be the ideal time to start an outdoor exercise program if you aren’t already active. If you want to start improving your fitness, winter is a great time to start an indoor routine, such as mall walking, that you can move outdoors when the weather improves.

Naulls acknowledges that staying active through a Canadian winter can be very challenging.

“You have to be determined to exercise in the cold,” she says. “But it’s part of living in Canada. We have that weather, so we need to make sure we make exercise and being active a priority regardless of the weather.”

This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: Feb. 20, 2014

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