Exercising Outside In Winter

Last updated: Jan 01, 2018

If you want to stay fit over the winter, you may be more likely to spend time exercising in the gym than outside. But in addition to helping you stay fit, exercising outside in winter has benefits the gym can’t provide. For example, being outside exposes you to sunlight that can boost your mood,1 it can increase your vitamin D levels and enhance your immune system,2 and it can potentially increase your ability to burn calories.2 With these advantages in mind, why not mix outdoor exercise with your gym visits this winter?

Before beginning a new outdoor winter exercise program,
develop a plan that allows you to exercise safely
despite cold temperatures.

Start by talking with your Summit Medical Group practitioner
to be sure it’s safe for you to exercise outside this winter.


Cold weather can worsen certain health problems, including asthma, heart problems, peripheral artery disease, and Raynaud’s disease. Even if you have one or more of these health issues, you may be able to enjoy being active outdoors this winter.

Talk with your doctor about your health concerns. He or she can recommend ways to stay active and be safe despite the cold. In some cases, your doctor might recommend exercising indoors on especially cold days and heading outdoors when temperatures rise.

Once your doctor gives you a green light for exercising outside in cold weather, follow these tips to ensure your safety and comfort:

  • Dress in layers, with a synthetic fabric such as propylene against your skin to draw moisture away from your body; place a wool or fleece garment on top of the synthetic fabric to insulate you; and cover the inner layers with a waterproof, wind-blocking, breathable shell

    • Avoid overdressing to prevent overheating, sweating, cooling down, and getting chilled

    • Avoid cotton and down-filled garments that absorb sweat, stay wet against your skin, and draw heat away from you

  • Wear reflective clothing, especially at dawn, at dusk, and on dark, cloudy days

  • Wear a face mask to protect the skin on your face and warm the air you breathe

  • Wear a hat or headband that covers your ears

  • Wear thin synthetic-fiber insulating gloves and socks inside wool or fleece gloves and socks to wick away moisture and ensure your hands and feet stay dry and warm

  • Use chemical hand and feet warmers if you are outside for an extended period on very cold days, tuck hand and feet warmers in your gloves, mittens, and boots for extra warmth

    • Avoid placing warmers directly against your skin. Chemical warmers can burn you if they get too hot and are next to your skin. Use them only in unventilated spaces - the more they are exposed to cold air, the hotter they get

  • Wear shoes that are a half or full size larger than your usual size and ensure they have grip soles to prevent slips and falls

    • Shoes that are too tight can restrict blood flow to your feet and toes. Wearing shoes a half or full size larger allows room for thick thermal or double-layer socks without cutting off blood supply

      • Avoid shoes with leather or plastic soles that are slippery

  • Watch the ground the entire time you’re exercising to avoid uneven and icy surfaces

  • Keep your hands out of your pockets for balance and to break a trip or fall

  • Apply sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of 30 and ultraviolet (UV) ray protection and wear wrap-around sunglasses that block UVA (alpha)/UVB (beta) rays from damaging glare off ice and snow

    • Although the sun’s rays are strongest in the summer, direct or reflected UV rays can damage skin and eyes throughout the year

  • Apply a lubricating lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher to prevent chapping and sunburn

  • Drink water before and after exercising to avoid dehydration

  • Walk or run 5 minutes or more at a slow or moderate pace to warm your muscles

  • Avoid ice and watch the road or sidewalk to prevent slipping and falling

    • Avoid exercising outside when roads and sidewalks are icy

Avoid exercising outside if the temperature drops below 0° F (-17.8° C).
Even if you dress warmly, extremely cold temperatures
can make exercising outdoors unsafe.

Exercising outside in the cold can invigorate you and connect you with the beauty of winter. But without thoughtful preparation, proper attire, and safety meausures, exercising in cold weather can be uncomfortable and even dangerous. Making a plan, preparing for your workouts with the right clothing, avoiding icy and extreme conditions, and getting an ok from your doctor can help ensure you make the most of outdoor fitness this year.


  1. Miller AL. Epidemiology, etiology, and natural treatment of seasonal affective disorder. Alt Med Rev. 2005;10(1):5-13.

  2. Jett DM, Adams KJ, Stamford BA. Cold exposure and exercise metabolism. Sports Med. 2006;36(8):643-656.