During the winter, much of the country has cold weather and snow. With the new year’s health resolutions in full swing, many people are looking to get healthier, lose weight, or both. But not everyone wants to go to a gym or fitness center. One option is running, despite the weather. There is some interesting research about the benefits of running in the cold! Cold-weather running may require more resources, but can provide great benefits.
We all know that we should get a certain amount of exercise each week. Most of us focus on things like steps (walking) and strength training to achieve the best health for our age. But on average, each week adults need over 2 hours of moderate aerobic exercise, or over 1 hour of more vigorous exercise.
Running in the cold can help you to get in the recommended number of aerobic minutes each day. The cooler temperatures can amp up your metabolism, and your metabolism then converts what you eat and drink into energy.
Cooler temperatures also affect the type of fat your body stores. What’s called “white fat” stores energy, while “brown fat” is burned to create heat and keep you warm. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that when men are exposed to cooler temperatures for a month, the amount of brown fat in their bodies increased.
First and foremost, you need to check the weather forecast. Be mindful of temperatures that are dangerously cold, precipitation that could create slippery surfaces, and wind that could make running too difficult.
Next, be mindful of your attire. When dressing for the cold, it’s always important to remember to dress in layers. The temperature determines how many layers you need and what type of clothing each layer should be. In case you need to remove layers as your body temperature increases, ensure that the ones you’ll be removing are convenient to carry. Consider gloves, socks, some type of hat, a base layer, pullover, jacket, pants and thermal leggings if necessary. Make sure that your top few layers have reflective tape or reflective elements on them. If it’s a cloudy day or you are running later in the day, you want make sure that any passing drivers can see you.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Even though it’s cold, your body is still burning energy, so replenishing lost fluids is just as important as when you exercise in warmer weather.
Stay connected. You may have a problem while out running, such as a slip and fall injury or other health-related issue. It’s important to keep a phone with you and let someone know the path you plan to run so help can find its way to you.
Finally, make sure you have covered exposed areas with eyewear and sunscreen. The eyewear will protect your eyes from UV rays and block glare from the sun (especially bad when bouncing off snow). Sunscreen is just as important during the winter as it is during the summer. (And don’t forget, you can use your FSA to pay for many sunscreen products, including some lip balms that contain sunscreen.)
Although running in cold weather can be really good exercise, it is not a good idea for everyone. (If in doubt, check with your doctor first.) If you have or have had a heart condition, you may want to exercise indoors due to the potential risk of increased blood pressure. Cold weather can cause inflammation in your lungs, so those with respiratory issues may not be able to participate. And finally, if the temperatures drop too low, the risk of hypothermia could rule cold weather running out for just about everyone.
Follow these tips and see if running in the cold is a good option for you. But whatever you decide to do this winter, remember to get out, get moving and get healthier!