Sun shines in the background of a wooded area as a runner runs through the snow in the foreground

Running in the cold

Running is a great way to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. When cold weather hits, it can be less enticing to run outside. But don’t let that stop you from keeping fit and staying healthy. If you do choose to try running in the cold, be sure to take extra care to stay safe while you run.

Layer up

When preparing for a cold-weather run, it’s important to check the temperature, wind chill and real-feel temperature before heading out.

If strong winds, sleet or other severe winter weather conditions are in the forecast for the next hour, it may be best to postpone your run until later.

The weather also helps to determine how you leave the house for your run. Layers work best for running in the cold.

“Clothes designed to keep you warm and also allow for maximum performance should be worn, such as a wool base layer with subsequent layers that are highly insulating and breathable,” said Keirsten Smith, MD, a family and sports medicine provider for OSF HealthCare.

Layers work so well because they are easy to shed after you get into your run and start warming up. For warmer days, lighter or fewer layers will do. When the temperatures are in the 30s or colder, opt for a long-sleeve shirt, weatherproof jacket and running pants, in addition to a hat and gloves. If it’s in the 40s, you can get away with a long-sleeve shirt, running tights and gloves.

Staying safe

There are several safety issues to consider in the winter months that aren’t a big deal during the other months of the year.

“Events should be canceled at temperatures 4 below zero, and training sessions should be canceled or moved indoors at 5 degrees. Cold air exposure and certain weather conditions can also decrease vision, alertness and reflexes, which may increase the risk of injury,” Dr. Smith said.

If you live in an area that gets frequent snow or ice, these can spell danger for runners. Choose a location that may be less prone to slippery spots for your run. This could be a public park where the paths are paved and regularly salted and shoveled.

Also consider the fact that it’s darker in the morning and we lose daylight earlier, so cautiously choose the time of day you are running. You may have to adjust your regular run schedule to fit in a run during daylight hours.

If you’re starting or ending your run while the sun is rising or setting, reflective clothing or a headlamp are essential.

Staying healthy

During the hot months of summer, it’s easier to feel when your body needs water. When you come inside from a summer run, you know to drink water because you feel thirstier, and cold water feels like a relief. The cold weather doesn’t have that same kind of effect, but that doesn’t mean your body needs water any less after a winter run.

“You need to replenish your hydration, electrolytes and glycogen stores within 30 minutes post-workout,” Dr. Smith said.

Lastly, running in the cold can be rough on the lungs. The dry air of winter can cause coughing and shortness of breath. If you’re going to run in the cold, pay attention to the signs your body is getting close to reaching its limit. If you start feeling a tightness in your chest, coughing or chest pain, you may want to cut your run short, especially if you have any preexisting lung conditions, like asthma.

Winter isn’t a reason to stay inside. If you want to fit in an outdoor run during the winter, follow these tips to ensure a safe and productive run.

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About Author: Katie Faley

Katie Faley is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare. She graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in English Studies. Before joining OSF HealthCare in 2021, she worked in magazine editing, digital marketing and freelance writing.
Katie is often found listening to ‘60s folk music, deciding on a new skill to learn, losing track of time in a library or spending time with her family and friends.

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Categories: Diet & Exercise