A Guide To Outdoor Exercise in Winter
Heading out for a run on a sunny day in June is one thing, but mustering up the motivation to exercise outside in winter is a different kettle of fish. With darkness creeping in at 5pm and the days getting colder, it’s becoming increasingly tempting to curl up on the sofa with a mulled wine and forget about working out until the summer.
Yet there are many benefits to outdoor exercise: a study conducted in Finland, for instance, found that training al fresco has a positive impact on our sleep quality, physiological health and mental wellbeing. It’s also just a great way of getting outside, particularly while working from home, when it’s easy to stay cooped up in our houses all day.
If you are prepared to brave the cold, there are a number of things to keep in mind. Below we bring you a guide to outdoor exercise in winter, with tips on everything from gear to staying safe.
First of all, it’s really important to wear the right gear. Although your first thought will be to wrap up warm, remember you’re going to heat up pretty quickly. As Core Collective trainer India Bailey explains: ‘You need to make sure that the clothing you’re selecting is meant for exercising, since you will be sweating. Quick-dry options are paramount: you do not want to lose body temperature as you get wet.’ Thin long-sleeved layers are good, which you can take off and wrap around your waist when needed. Cotton should also be avoided, as it dries slowly – instead go for polyester, nylon and polypropylene, which dry 50 per cent faster than cotton. Sustainable alternatives like bamboo and merino wool also work well. Brands like The North Face, Nike, Sweaty Betty and Lululemon have lots of great kit for outdoor exercise.
Another important factor to consider is your accessories – as India points out, it’s important to protect your extremities and exposed skin. Runner’s World stresses the importance of wearing gloves while running in winter, as your fingers often get cold first. A decent hat and warm socks – ideally made from merino wool – are also advised. It’s recommended that all-weather cyclists, meanwhile, invest in some overshoes to wear on top of cycling shoes.
All seasoned runners and gym-goers will know how crucial a warm up is – even more so during outdoor exercise. ‘Make sure you always do a thorough warm up to increase body temperature and warm up muscles and joints effectively, as the cold will naturally counteract this,’ India recommends. Doing so will both reduce your risk of injury and optimise your performance. Try incorporating a few dynamic stretches into your warm up: active movements where muscles go through a full range of motion, like leg swings, side lunges and hip rotations. Pair these with some aerobic exercises, such as jumping jacks, to increase your heart rate.
While it’s clearly important to have all the right physical gear, half the challenge here is in your mind. To increase motivation levels, India recommends getting a friend involved. ‘Make a plan and hold each other accountable to get outside – it’s a great way to get some friendly competition in too.’ Bored of your local park? Use outdoor exercise as an excuse to check out somewhere a little further away – even if that’s a new coffee shop. India also suggests getting creative with outdoor props like logs, benches and trees, which can be used for tricep dips, chin ups and decline press ups.
Health & Safety
The sun sets around mid-afternoon at the moment, which means there are significantly less hours of sunlight than in the summer. In an ideal world, you’ll get out while it’s still light – but if you are exercising in the dark, it’s important to make yourself visible by investing in a reflective piece of kit, such as a jacket, gloves or a hat. Alternatively wear brightly coloured workout gear – Lorna Jane has lots of this. And if you’re out running at night, try to face against the traffic so you can see what’s coming towards you.
Finally, use your common sense and be mindful of weather conditions. While there are numerous advantages to outdoor exercise, it’s not always advisable – if it’s too cold, it’s too cold. ‘If you go outside and after a certain amount of time you start to shiver intensely, you have slurred speech or you find your coordination is compromised, head back indoors.’
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