Cold weather chases many athletes indoors--to boring routines on the treadmill or elliptical trainer. But if you love being outside and braving the elements, follow these tips for staying active this winter.
Wear layers. Dressing smartly not only helps keep out the cold, but more importantly, protects against hypothermia, a dangerous condition in which body temperature drops too low to sustain normal metabolism. (If you experience warning signs like shivering or slurred speech, get inside, warm, and dry immediately.)
Dress in three layers: A base layer of thin polypropylene or polyester to wick moisture away from the skin (never cotton; it stays wet), a middle layer also of thin technical fabric for insulation, and a breathable windproof and waterproof shell on the outside. On your hands wear an inner glove of sweat-wicking material topped by a wind/waterproof outer one. A fleece hat or headband allows evaporation but protects against the wind.
Stay hydrated. You usually don't feel the urge to drink as often as you do during warm-weather workouts, so you can't rely on thirst to keep you properly hydrated in colder conditions. To avoid dehydration, and the potential hypothermia it can cause, drink a few ounces of water or sports drink before you head out, and take several sips every 20 minutes to stay hydrated. Save the hot cocoa or coffee for when you finish, as caffeine can promote dehydration.
Get noticed. With fewer daylight hours, and drivers distracted by falling snow or icy surfaces, call attention to yourself by wearing light-colored, reflective clothing. Find adhesive reflective strips and portable flashing lights at running stores.
Also, don't go so far into the backcountry on your skis or snowshoes that you're too tired to make it back.
Stay the course. Winter exercise demands greater personal motivation than any other time of year. Set realistic goals and be flexible. Track your progress by time or distance, not both. Don't expect PRs this time of year. Weather, holiday celebrations and early darkness can mean disappointment for the person who has no plan B.