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How to Winterize Your Wellness Routine

We’ve all wanted to hibernate when temperatures drop. Researchers have demonstrated that in winter, just as your carb cravings skyrocket, your body stores more fat. It’s so cold out, and that hot cocoa is so good! There goes the exercise routine…

Yet cold weather can also help you burn calories more efficiently. Studies show that active people are more protected from weight gain in winter, especially if they continue to get out and exercise most days.

From walking to running, winter exercise is a potent stress reducer and mood booster. Experts say that almost everyone can work out safely in reasonably cold conditions if they minimize cold-weather risks. (If you have a breathing or heart condition, check with your doctor first.)

How to cold-proof your favorite outdoor exercise

In winter, it’s all about staying warm and dry.

  • START INSIDE Do your warm-up and cool-down inside to reduce your exposure.
  • FIRST INTO THE WIND Face the wind on your way out, then put it at your back on the return. When you’re sweaty, a headwind can chill you quickly.
  • WARM YOUR BREATH Except in extreme wind chill (below zero degrees F), the cold air won’t damage your lungs, but it can hurt a little; your airway passages narrow, making inhalation more difficult. Inhale through your nose, if you can, to warm and humidify the air; wear a scarf around your mouth to trap water vapor and humidify the air as you breathe.
  • SAFETY FIRST It’s easier to strain a muscle on snow or slip on ice.
    • Try exercising with a buddy, or tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll return, just in case.
    • Choose wide streets that have been plowed. Insulated, waterproof trail shoes or grippers that slip onto your shoes can keep you steady.
    • Be visible; wear bright colors and reflective gear. Add a headlamp, if needed.
  • STAY HYDRATED You can still get dehydrated in the cold. If you’d carry water in summer, carry it in winter, too.
  • LAYER UP Dress “dry,” not just “warm.” If you get wet, you’ll get chilled—and at greater risk for hypothermia or even frostbite.  
    • Moisture-wicking base layer – A snug, breathable shirt or turtleneck made from polypropylene, capilene, or silk
    • Warm middle layer – A fleece or wool top thick enough for the outside temp and the intensity of your exercise
    • Windproof outer layer – A wind- and water-resistant jacket that breathes, such as Gore-Tex or nylon
    • Runner’s World Magazine offers a clever “What to Wear for Your Run” tool to help you select the right gear for the temperature here.
  • PROTECT YOUR EXTREMITIES Cold prompts your body to route blood to your core, leaving less blood to warm your hands and feet.
    • Wear a cozy hat or headband that covers your ears.
    • Pull on gloves or mittens over moisture-wicking liners; you can remove the outer pair if your hands get sweaty.
    • Choose thick, cushioned wool or synthetic socks to wick perspiration away from your feet.
  • PROTECT YOUR SKIN No one wants a winter sunburn.
    • Use a rich moisturizing cream on your face and add Vaseline or a similar barrier to sensitive areas like the tip of your nose, nostrils, and ears.
    • Snow reflects up to 80% of UV rays. In the mountains, your sunburn risk is higher; for every 1,000 feet of elevation, your UV exposure increases 4-5%. Use at least SPF 30 sunscreen on exposed skin, plus SPF lip balm. And don’t forget to protect your eyes with UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • AT THE END, COOL DOWN AND CHANGE A cool-down is important to help your body eliminate exercise byproducts and reduce potential muscle soreness. Taper your exercise intensity during the final 5-10 minutes; once your breathing and heart rate normalize, do your cool-down (indoors). Change out of your damp workout clothes immediately. Then treat yourself for a winter workout well done!


Winter exercise has so many cool benefits—literally! Learn more from the sources that we consulted for this article.

Brian Krans, “Feel the Brrr: Exercising in the Cold Can Give Your Workout a Boost,”, 1/15/19. Accessed 1/23/19.

Brianne Hogan, “5 Outdoor Winter Workouts You’ll Actually Like,”, 11/21/17. Accessed 1/23/19.

C. Claiborne Ray, “Q&A; Perils of Cold Air,”, 2/4/03. Accessed 1/23/19.

Fiona Tapp, “Here’s the Right Way to Run Outside in the Winter,”, 2/5/18. Accessed 1/23/19.

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