Cold Weather Exercise

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Harvard Medical School

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Cold Weather Exercise

Cold Weather Exercise
Cold Weather Exercise
Exercise comfortably when the temperature dips.
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Cold Weather Exercise

All weight-lifting and stretching exercises should be done at room temperature--which means indoors during the cold winter months. However, aerobic exercise sessions can be done outdoors quite comfortably even when the thermometer dips below freezing. Your breathing passages are designed to rapidly heat the air you breathe before it reaches the lungs. And the body heat you generate doing aerobic exercise is more than enough to keep you warm--provided you trap it with layers of appropriate clothing that keep your skin dry at the same time.

Why is it so important to keep your skin dry? Because the air directly next to your skin dictates how you feel. If this air layer is moist, it will act to cool your skin, giving you a damp, clammy feeling. If it's kept dry, your skin will also feel dry and warm.

Natural fibers like cotton and silk quickly become wet from perspiration, and stay wet. Wool dries rapidly, but is uncomfortable on the skin. Solution: Wear long underwear tops and bottoms made of polypropylene, or another similar synthetic fiber that will "wick" moisture away from your skin surface, keeping it dry and toasty. (Combination cotton-polypropylene undergarments also work well.)

Tips for Cold Weather Exercise

  • Dress for the cold if the temperature is 45° Fahrenheit or lower (especially if the weather is misty or breezy, which will make you feel colder).
  • Wear an inner layer of synthetic-fiber long johns, top and bottom, and an outer layer that will break the wind (like a rain suit or tightly knit sweatsuit).
  • In very cold weather, add a fluffy middle layer to trap heat, such as a wool sweater or a synthetic fleece-type garment (available in sporting goods stores).
  • Wear a knit wool cap on your head to prevent heat loss through the scalp.
  • Wear mittens (which allow warm air to circulate) rather than gloves.
  • Take an extra long warm-up in cold weather, and move more slowly and cautiously than usual.
  • Always try to work out with a partner in cold weather, or tell someone exactly where you're going, and how long you plan to be gone.




Last updated February 12, 2014

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