If you’re a runner, you never want to let weather stand in your way. You’ll get your miles in no matter the conditions. But you should be thinking about safety when running in the winter.
There are lots of things to consider before heading out into the cold, but when done safely, a winter run is actually pretty good for you. St. Mary’s University researchers revealed a run in cold weather requires less energy and could bring your heart rate down by 6 percent. They also think your best chance to set a personal record may be when the mercury takes a nosedive.
So, if you love to lace up those running shoes every time the temperature goes down, consider these five safety tips for running safely in the winter.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but think about all the times you were in a hurry and did not warm up properly before a run, or even at all. You may get away with it on a hot summer day, but old man winter won’t have it. When it’s cold outside, dynamic stretching works best. You also can get your blood flowing by doing things like:
- running up and down stairs
- jumping rope
Most research suggests you won’t damage your muscles in the cold, but if you stretch a cold muscle, you could strain it.
Check the Temperature
How cold is too cold? While there are some dangers to working out in the extreme cold, studies suggest that exercise can be done safely in wind chill temperatures as low as -18 degrees F.
Wind chill takes into account conditions like wind speed and moisture to calculate the risk of frostbite to your bare skin. Running in extreme cold also may trigger symptoms of exercise-induced asthma.
Yes, it’s cold, but a good rule of thumb is to dress like it’s 20 degrees warmer. This will prevent you from putting on too many layers.
Your base layer should be a wicking material and covered by an insulating layer of fleece, synthetics or wool. Top it with an outer wind-breaking layer. Mittens are typically better than gloves because your fingers generate more heat when they're not separated from each other by fabric. It’s also important to keep your feet dry as well and wear a facemask or a hat in extreme cold.
Overdressing could lead to dehydration during winter runs. Or you may sweat less and feel less thirsty during winter workouts, so you’re more likely to neglect your hydration needs.
You hear about it all the time in summer: Hydrate before, during and after your run. You need to take the same approach for your winter runs, too.
Check Your Path
If the roads and sidewalks around your house are not plowed, or clear—you may want to find some that are. If the surface is wet, icy or snow-covered, you’re increasing your risk for injury.
If you do choose to run on the snow, slow down. You’ll get all the benefits of a longer run. You don’t want to slip and twist a knee, or land on an elbow. You also may consider wearing a trail shoe.
In the end, a run in the cold is a good addition to any exercise regimen. If you’d like more workout tips, download our guide, Exercising to Keep Your Joints Healthy.