How to Exercise Outside—Even When It’s Freezing Cold

The mercury may be dropping, but you can—and should—keep exercising outside. Here’s how.


Ditch the Cotton T-Shirt

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Cotton absorbs sweat and becomes a soggy layer against skin that can make you feel cold and clammy. If it’s below freezing, wear a moisture-wicking shirt made from a synthetic material, like polypropylene, or a wool-synthetic blend.


Shed as You Sweat

Your torso generates more sweat than any other body area. To keep it dry and warm (but not hot), layering is crucial. Top your base layer with a waterproof, breathable jacket. If it’s in the 30s or below, add a middle layer of fleece or wool. Then “as soon as you start to get warm, tie the top layer around your waist,” says exercise physiologist Carl Foster, Ph.D., the director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin—La Crosse.


Pay Extra Attention to Your Extremities

When you’re cold, blood flow goes straight to the internal organs and away from less vital places, like the hands, feet, and nose. (Keep in mind that women’s hands also tend to be about three degrees cooler than men’s, according to a University of Utah study.) If it’s below 45 degrees and/or windy, and you feel cold or are prone to getting chilled easily, wear gloves and a hat or a head wrap that covers your ears. If the temperature is 32 degrees or lower and your jacket doesn’t cover your neck, add a neck gaiter or a scarf and moisture-wicking socks (like SmartWool) to protect toes from frostbite.


Light Up the Night

If short winter days mean you’ll be hitting the streets when it’s even a little bit dim, reflective gear is a must. Wear a light-reflecting vest or armbands and/or a headlamp to make sure that drivers and fellow exercisers can see you.


Know When to Head In

If you see or feel ice on the ground and don’t have snow tires (if you’re biking) or ice cleats (if you’re walking or running); if your fingers, toes, or ears begin to lose feeling; or if you start to wheeze (a sign that your respiratory tract is constricting and that you may not be getting enough oxygen), exercise indoors, says exercise physiologist Paul Kennedy, a spokesperson for Leisure Fitness, in Newark, Delaware.