Cold Weather Exercise Safety Tips
The winter season is fully upon us now and between the longer hours of darkness, the cold weather, and the ongoing need to take precautions against COVID-19, many of us are already feeling cabin fever. With many gyms closed, options for exercise may be reduced, but this doesn’t mean you can’t still get outside and get active! Even when it’s chilly out, getting some fresh air and moving around is good for your physical and mental health. However, the winter conditions bring the need for some additional considerations to stay safe while exercising outside.
With the early sunset of this time of year and far fewer daylight hours available, it can be a challenge to get outside while it is still light out and visibility is best. It’s advisable to do so, though, if you can. Walking, biking or running in a poorly lit area can pose a number of dangers. Patches of snow or ice that could cause slips and falls are not easily seen in the dark and you may not be able to tell if a sidewalk has been shoveled and salted until it’s too late.
Less people are out and about in dark and cold conditions and if you fall and get hurt, it may be more difficult to flag down help or get to safety. Cars will also have a more difficult time seeing you in the dark and slippery road conditions can prevent a vehicle from being able to stop in time if you cross its path. Try to work in your outside activities during daylight hours if you can. Take a walk during your lunchbreak or rearrange your schedule a bit if you are able to in order to get your bike or run in before dark. Then resume work activities once the sun has set. If you do go out after dark, try to stick to a well-lit area with sidewalks or trails that are properly maintained for the weather conditions.
Also, wear reflective gear so vehicles and other pedestrians or bikers can see you. And be cautious when wearing headphones and listening to music, which might prevent you from hearing an oncoming vehicle or distract you from paying attention to your surroundings. Let someone know your route and when you anticipate returning from your outdoor workout so they can make sure you make it home safely and locate you in case of injury or trouble. Consider keeping your ID on you in case of emergency.
Check the weather conditions before you head out. If it is expected to get particularly inclement, including conditions like freezing rain, heavy snow or high winds, consider postponing your workout until the weather has cleared. You don’t want to get stuck in wet, cold conditions where it might get slippery and there is poor visibility, which can make it difficult to turn around and make it home before becoming excessively wet or cold or after being injured.
Layer your clothing. Consider wearing workout gear specifically designed for cold weather activities and make sure you have sufficiently warm clothes, so you won’t be shivering during your workout. It is much easier to take off layers as you warm up from activity. Going with multiple layers of clothing can help you adjust your body temperature throughout your workout more comfortably. Wear a hat and gloves, as much body heat is lost through the head and hands can quickly become stiff and chapped from winter wind.
Stay dry. You want to pay special attention to keeping your feet warm and dry while being active outside in the winter. Cold, wet skin can quickly create serious problems and circulation to your extremities can be compromised. This can result in numbness, which can affect your balance or ability to recognize if you are in pain or injured. Look into socks designed for cold weather activity. Talk to a sporting goods store about cold weather shoe covers or shoes designed to withstand winter conditions.
Pay attention to your breath. Breathing in very cold air can hurt even when you are not exercising. Consider wearing a light bandana or scarf to protect your airway and allow yourself time to acclimate to the air temperature before increasing your activity to a level where you will be breathing heavily. If you feel yourself struggling to breathe, slow down or even cut your workout short.
Pay extra attention to warm up and cool down. Do some stretching and warm-up exercises indoors before heading out to exercise. This will help get your blood flowing and prepare your muscles for your activity. Cold weather can cause extra stiffness and tightness in muscles and joints, so preparing your body before and, by taking care of it after, you’ll reduce the risk of soreness and injury.
Outdoor exercise has benefits all year round and is a free and convenient way to keep yourself physically fit while reducing stress. Taking just a little extra time to ensure you are well-prepared will go a long way to making wintertime exercise safer and more enjoyable.