How to Exercise Outdoors in Cold Weather

When you are heading out, start with a base layer made of merino wool, polypropylene or material that will wick away water and sweat. This includes glove liners, socks and hats, which can get wet with sweat and freeze. Next, add a slightly thicker layer made of fleece or light wool and top it off with something that breaks the wind. Sunglasses or goggles and a buff, neckwear that can be pulled up over the mouth and nose, help protect the face. There’s a wide variety of winter boot options so be sure to check the temperature rating and traction.

“I buy hand and toe warmers in bulk and keep them in my pockets,” said Dr. Katie Eichten, a cross-country skier and emergency physician at the Hayward Area Memorial Hospital in Wisconsin. “I also put one against the back of my phone and put both in a middle-layer pocket so the battery lasts longer.”

If you’re heading into the mountains, your phone can be a particularly powerful tool. Dustin Dyer, an owner and director of Kent Mountain Adventure Center, suggests downloading a navigation app like Avenza Maps, Powder Project or Trailforks, that includes offline digital maps and uses your phone’s built-in GPS to locate you even when you’re out of range.

SAFETY FIRST Depending on your winter outdoor activity, you may want to consider specialized safety training.

Mr. Dyer, who guides backcountry skiers, snowboarders and ice climbers, recommends CPR training for everybody.

“If you’re going to be one hour from care, doing multiple days outside or really going off the grid, you should have Wilderness First Aid,” he said of the certification course. “And everyone who is going into the mountains in the winter needs some kind of avalanche training. For most people, avalanche awareness, which focuses on avoidance, is going to be adequate.”

WARM UP (AND COOL DOWN) When exercising in cold temperatures, your muscles are not as pliable and are at increased risk for injury and strain. The cold air also causes the upper airway to narrow making it harder to breathe. Breathing through the nose and covering the nose and mouth with a scarf or mask can warm the air before it reaches the lower airway. But both the muscles and the lungs need to warm up for at least 10 to 15 minutes.

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