Healthy Lifestyle

How cold weather exercises can benefit both mind and body

Woman and man jogging outside on the road with snow on the ground.


Exercising outside in colder weather can be an enjoyable experience that helps your body stay healthy and keeps you in a good mood.    


By David Lomnitz, MD, Section Chief, Division of Cardiology, Nuvance Health


If you enjoy working out but can’t stand being cooped up inside during the colder months, then the great outdoors could be the answer you have been looking for.


When we think of exercising during the winter, going to the beach or taking a walk on the trail may not be the first idea that comes to mind. However, you may be surprised at both the positive physical and mental health benefits of incorporating an outdoor cold weather workout or physical activity into your winter routine.


According to the National Library of Medicine, spending time in nature can have positive impacts on your mental health and being close to green areas can help lower stress and lessen symptoms of depression and anxiety.


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Get out of the house and stay active


Life in the winter can get stagnant. The days are short and there is less sunlight as the Northern hemisphere rotates away from the sun. The longer nights and lack of sunlight can make winter seem dark and dreary, especially if you are spending all your time indoors. Getting outside of the house during the colder months can feel like a task on its own but it may be the best way to beat the winter blues.


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Exercises and activities to keep your body moving


Use your best judgement before attempting any cold weather outdoor exercise or activity. Make sure to check your local forecast before heading out. ‘How cold is too cold?’ is a matter of perspective and everyone responds differently to temperatures in their environment. Ensure you are fully comfortable being outside before you begin your exercise.


Learn more about preventive cardiology at Nuvance Health.


According to the U.S. Department of Human Health and Services, adults should get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate cardio or 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of intense physical activity and winter is no exception.


Running or jogging in cold weather is an easy way to get some outdoor winter exercise that involves cardio. If you want to lose weight and get fit, then cold weather running might be one way to reach your goal. A recent study shows a connection between weight loss and frequent exposure to cold temperatures. Remember to wear layers and to stay hydrated. If you are running on the road, wear brightly colored clothes so drivers can easily see you.

  • Hiking is an all-time favorite among outdoor enthusiasts. All you need to get started is some well-fitted hiking boots or sneakers and some warm clothing. There are lots of outdoor recreational and fitness apps that help you locate trails. Hiking can also be a relaxing experience to ease your mind while surrounded by nature.     


  • Fat biking is becoming a popular way to enjoy riding a bicycle in the snow while challenging yourself physically. Fat biking is a great way to burn calories while getting exercise outdoors during the winter as it proves to be both an adventure and a fitness experience. Just like the name suggests, the tires on fat bikes are much wider than your typical mountain bike tire. The fat bike tire is larger and tougher so that you can easily ride through a snowy trail.


  • Kayaking during the winter is pretty common and it’s a great way to get some exercise. The northeast is home to many state parks and beaches that are open year-round and offer access to flat water or Long Island Sound. Kayaking can be a peaceful and tranquil experience accompanied by opportunities to be out in nature and see wildlife. Kayaking, like all paddle sports, helps to build upper body and core muscle strength.    


  • Skiing is considered the gold standard of winter activities and it’s a full-body workout. Skiing allows you to activate all of the muscle groups in your body. Cross-country skiing is one of the most physically demanding winter activities because it does not involve the use of lifts like the ones at resorts.   


  • Ice skating is an enjoyable winter activity and also great exercise. Ice skating helps to keep you physically active, and studies suggest figure skating can sharpen motor skills, help with your ability to take risks and overcome mental barriers, develop courage, and self-esteem. There are lots of places to ice skate in the area.


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Tips for exercising outdoors safely


Taking precautions when exercising or doing outdoor physical activities in the cold will ensure you have a great experience. Here are some tips on how to prepare for your time outside:

  • Warm up before and after by stretching or walking in place.  

  • To prevent hypothermia and frostbite, choose proper clothing for the elements and pay close attention to specific needs such as rain gear, waterproof or water-resistant material, snow pants, jackets, gloves, a hat and scarf.

  • When the wind chill is -20°F frostbite can occur in just 30 minutes. Limit time outside and take frequent breaks indoors during extreme cold and windchill. Watch out for snow and ice and wear proper shoes or boots to prevent slips and falls.

  • Drink plenty of water while outdoors. Staying hydrated in cold weather is just as important as it is in hot weather. Drink water or sports drinks with electrolytes before and after your workouts even if you aren’t thirsty.

  • Recognize the signs of hypothermia such as shivering, exhaustion or feeling very tired, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.

  • Recognize the signs of frostbite such as redness or pain, skin that feels firm or waxy, and numbness. If you suspect you might have frostbite or hypothermia, seek medical attention immediately and use these tips:
    • Do take your temperature. If below 95°F, seek medical care immediately

    • Do get to a warm area

    • Do remove wet clothing

    • Do warm up with dry layers or blankets or clothing

    • Do place skin affected by frostbite in warm water

    • Do NOT place skin affected by frostbite in hot water

    • Do NOT use fireplaces or artificial heat sources for warming frostbite

    • Do NOT rub or put pressure on areas with frostbite

The bottom line: Embrace these cold weather months and find ways to exercise outside. There are plenty of ways to exercise outdoors during cold weather such as hiking skiing and running. Remember to always check your local forecast before heading outside so you can dress appropriately. Bundle up and wear layers when exercising or doing physical activities outside in the cold and watch out for ice and snow to avoid slips and falls. Have fun!