You look outside your window: snow is covering the ground, and the air feels uncomfortably cold. So this is the best weather to ditch your morning run and settle in with a hot cup of coffee, right? Well, not at all! We’re here to provide some great cold weather winter running tips to help you conquer running in the colder months.
Although cold weather running is unthinkable to some, many people swear by it. Read on to find out the benefits you reap and how to prepare for your cold-weather run!
Is Running in the Cold Good for You?
Aside from the anecdotal evidence from runaholics who swear by running in freezing temperatures, exercise in the cold winter months has some upsides! Cold weather running is a test a sheer will at times, but it can ben beneficial.
It Boosts Your Metabolism
In the colder months, our bodies tend to slow down metabolism and increase the demand for energy through food. This is an evolutionary survival mechanism to ward off starvation when resources are limited. And it usually translates into a couple of pounds gained over the winter.
Our bodies store energy as either white fat: the kind that doesn’t burn easily and can increase the chance of type 2 diabetes, or brown fat: the kind that the body readily uses as a fuel source.
Research has shown that cold acclimation boosts the body’s energy by making white fat cells behave more like brown fat.
Tip: Brown fat tissue stores chemical energy that is then burned by the body to produce heat in cold climates. The longer your body is exposed to the cold, the more it will use fat to warm itself up instead of hoarding it.
It also engages non-shivering thermogenesis, which makes your body produce heat without resorting to shivering or muscle activity. This helps keep our core body temperature stable as we go winter jogging.
It’s like unlocking a new level in a game, where your body restores its energy from brown fat reserves and the liver, brain, and white fat to a lesser extent.
Training your body to fare well as temperatures drop keeps your metabolism high by activating the mechanisms mentioned above. So even if you’re not running a marathon, just running errands, like shoveling snow or walking the dog in the winter, your body will thank you for this.
It Keeps Your Muscles In Shape
Some people prefer the treadmill during the cold months, but one of the disadvantages of treadmills is they can get old and demotivate you quickly. If you’re running outside all year and taking a hiatus during the winter, it’s bound to make your muscles lose tone. Treadmills do promote a lot of muscle growth, similar to regular running.
This is why braving the cold and going on that run sometimes is the best option. Provided you warm up sufficiently and are dressed for the weather, your muscles will thank you for the exercise. Plus, your body will release chemicals that help your muscles break down fatty acids; win-win!
It Helps Ward Off Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder known to some as seasonal depression. When daylight hours are shorter and the temperature drops, some people suffer a down mood, feeling more unmotivated and lazy. It can also lead to isolation and withdrawal.
This is where exercise, especially running outside, comes in. When you exert that much effort in the daylight, your body releases feel-good chemicals. It also helps with sleep issues, thanks to nighttime melatonin secretion.
So next time you feel the winter blues approaching, put on your running gear and hit the road!
It Could Be Easier Than Running In Hot Weather
Going on a run in hot, humid weather can be a challenge. Even those in great shape find themselves panting after the first five minutes!
This is simply because our bodies are designed to warm up during physical exercise, but our cooling-off mechanisms aren’t as effective. So getting used to the cold might be a hurdle at first, but when you get over it, you’ll have a rewarding experience.
However, it’s very important to be well-prepared for running in the cold, especially when it’s in freezing temperatures.
Effects of Running in the Cold on the Lungs
Your lungs warm up and humidify the air you breathe to condition it. Since cold air is significantly drier than warm air, your lungs work overtime during the cold.
If you don’t cover your nose and mouth in sub-freezing temperatures, your lungs will be irritated by the rush of cold, dry air coming in. This can cause some people to have bronchospasms that lead to asthma-like coughing fits.
To mitigate the effects of the cold while running, make sure to drink enough fluids before, during, and after the run. It’s also imperative to wear a mask or neck gaiter that covers the nose and mouth to trap heat from your body and warm the incoming air.
It’s always recommended that you breathe in through the nose and out the mouth. The nose contains mucus membranes that warm up and humidify the air, so it’s less harsh on the bronchi and the lungs.
If you suffer from rhinitis or asthma, maybe skip running in the cold weather until the temperature is more bearable.
How to Prepare for Running in the Cold
To reap the most benefits from running in cold weather, there are some things to take into consideration. It might take a few extra steps than running on temperate days, but the outcome is well worth it.
Bundle Up in Layers
Wearing the right exercise gear when you’re out in the cold protects your body from the weather and boosts your performance. Because our bodies go through a range of temperatures during the course of a run, it’s best to keep everything layered.
Starting with the base layer, a moisture-wicking, thermal material for a long-sleeve top and long bottoms/leggings is super important. This layer seals in your body heat like a heavy coat would while repelling the sweat away from the body.
Cotton is a big no-no for this application since it soaks all the moisture and keeps it trapped on the surface of your body. This can cause hypothermia when the cold reaches this layer as it touches your whole body.
You can add as many layers as the weather dictates; just make sure they’re easy to remove and tie around your waist if you overheat. The last thing you want is to carry a huge coat the whole way back.
Long socks made of wool or a moisture-wicking material can protect your feet from wind chills. Some runners even opt for knee-high skiing socks that add an extra layer of protection to their legs.
Choose the Right Shoes
Keeping your feet warm is essential to ward off frostbite. A pair of Gore-tex waterproof running shoes can protect you should you step into a puddle by accident.
The issue of traction is also important since running in the winter can pose a huge risk of slipping and sliding on ice and sleet. You can use these add-on spikes that make your favorite running shoes fit for use on packed snow or ice.
Related: Read our shoe reviews to find the perfect pair of shoes for you.
Sufficient Warming Up
Going on a run is almost impossible without warming up, especially in the winter, when muscles can get shocked by the cold and seize up. This is why it’s crucial to take your time warming up before running in the cold.
Take at least 15 minutes of dynamic stretching, which simply means running or moving in place, instead of static stretching that won’t fire up your muscles as much.
It’s also preferable to do your warmup inside before you head out in the cold. This way, your muscles will be already active by the time you face the weather, and the chances of a cramp are much lower.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to break any records here. Don’t push yourself beyond your limits, and manage your expectations when it comes to running in adverse conditions.
Since our bodies don’t sweat as much during the winter, it can be difficult to gauge how much water we actually need. However, just because you don’t feel thirsty doesn’t mean your body’s not losing water during the run.
That’s why you should keep a handheld water bottle or hydration pack on you if you plan on running for more than 45 minutes. And since water can freeze in the cold, try to keep it inside the layers of clothing near your body.
Protect Your Extremities
In sub-freezing temperatures, frostbite can hit pretty fast, so you have to keep your hands and face protected at all times.
Wear gloves or mittens to keep your fingers from freezing, a woolen beanie or earmuffs for your ears, and a mask, bandana, or neck gaiter to protect your nose and mouth.
And please, don’t be a hero! If you feel any numbness in your hands, feet, or nose, seek shelter and warmth immediately, which brings us to our last tip.
Plan Your Route and Stay Safe
Running your favorite trail in the winter can be a magical experience since it’ll probably be all yours. However, in some cases, it can be quite dangerous, especially if you’re running in the dark.
Daylight hours can be dear in the winter, so some people will resort to early morning or evening runs. So, it’s best to take some precautions before going on your run, like:
- Letting a friend or family member know your route.
- Keeping your cellphone on you in case of emergencies.
- Wearing reflective clothing and/or a headlamp for better visibility.
- Running loops around the house if trails are inaccessible or dangerous.
Running in the cold can be an exhilarating, rewarding experience. From boosting your metabolism to brightening your mood, you can reap a lot of benefits from stepping out in the freezing air.
Just remember, to get the most out of the experience, you should be well-prepared with proper clothing and accessories. Warming up and staying hydrated can make your body go further than you imagine.
Stay safe and keep running!