Is it Safe to Run Outside During the Winter?

It is safe to run outside in the winter, but be careful! 

COVID has disrupted many aspects of daily life, including our workout routines. This has forced many of us to exercise outside. While running outside during frigid weather there are important considerations to take into account to stay safe.

Running in cold weather affects the body in multiple ways. One of the most significant factors impacting the body in cold weather is muscle and joint flexibility. The body is not only much stiffer at lower temperatures (think of trying to open your fingers in the cold) but functions at a reduced capacity due to the many strains on the physiological system. One of these strains is from necessary biological functions to keep the body warm. For example the cardiovascular system works much harder to circulate warm blood to the vital organs and extremities. Also, the body has a reduced amount of sensation in the extremities due to the cold temperatures (think of ice cubes causing numbness on your hands) and therefore balance and muscle control is limited in cold weather. These factors can be detrimental to the body’s physical performance. To mitigate the effects of cold weather there are several tips and tricks to keep in mind while running this winter. 

Running in the cold can run the risk of injury and even worse, hypothermia. Here are several recommendations: 

Muscles, tendons and ligaments need a proper warm up. It is advised to walk around your living space for 5-10 minutes inside prior to your run. Additionally, to help warm-up muscles basic plyometric exercises like jumping jacks or high knees are beneficial.  Remember it is never advised to stretch before you run. 

Proper clothing is essential for running in cold weather.  Dress for weather conditions that are 10 degrees warmer than the temperature outside. Additionally, be mindful of the type of clothes you are wearing. For example, cotton and polyester react very differently to sweat. Look for materials with wicking properties such as polyester or nylon to prevent cold clothing from sticking to your skin. A good rule to remember is cotton kills (in cold temperature). 

The time of day and weather conditions dramatically impact effects of temperature on the body. Consider running in the middle of the day when it is warmest outside. Additionally, factor in whether it is raining, snowing or windy during your run all of which can intensify cold temperatures.

While cold temperatures can make it more difficult to run outside utilizing these recommendations and suggestions can make it safer and more enjoyable. If you have questions regarding running in cold weather or any other questions feel free to contact the RUNATOMY team and/or schedule an appointment.

Run safer, faster, better!

Justin Jellin, DPT, ART
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Program Director RUNATOMY

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Runatomy Blogs are for general information purposes only. The opinions expressed in Runatomy Blogs are solely those of the author, which may or may not be supported by research, and may contain information about products, services, or treatments. Runatomy Blogs are never a substitute for professional advice, examination, or treatment from a licensed physical therapist, physician, or other qualified healthcare provider