The Benefits of Running In Cold Weather — Plus, How to Do So Safely

These expert-approved tips will help you avoid eating sh*t or injuring yourself while running in cold weather.

Woman exercising for cross-country running in winter jogging over snow
Photo: swissmediavision/Getty

Sure, it is freezing outside, and running in cold weather might not feel quite as natural as when it's warm and sunny. But before you retreat to the treadmill for your run, consider this: Running in the cold may actually feel easier, help you reach your fitness goals, keep your metabolism going strong, and boost your mood.

Here, experts break down the biggest health benefits of running in cold weather and share their best advice for warming up, gearing up, and rocking your frigid run.

5 Benefits of Running In Cold Weather

Cold is actually the ideal weather for running.

Believe it or not, cold weather is actually the ideal condition for your run, says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist, sports performance coach, and author of The Marathon Method (Buy It, $16, amazon.com). "The colder the weather, the less heat stress on the body, which makes it significantly easier to run," explains Holland. "Running in hot and humid weather is extremely taxing on the body — there is a reason why the majority of marathons are held in October and November."

Running outdoors can help you stay active.

Getting yourself to the gym can be a challenge in itself (especially during the winter months), and a treadmill at home can get boring — but running in cold weather will never get dull. It's free, convenient, and will help you stay active when you'd rather binge-watch Bridgerton. "We tend to move less and eat more in the colder months," says Holland. "Running burns significant calories and is therefore a powerful tool in maintaining and even losing weight during winter." Pounding the pavement, in general, could help you live longer, too; runners have a 25 to 40 percent reduced risk of premature mortality and live about three years longer than non-runners, according to a 2017 study published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases.

Running can help stop you from feeling quite so SAD.

"When the days get shorter and the temperature plummets, many people suffer from Seasonal Affect Disorder," says Holland. "Running helps release powerful hormones that help combat this depression, increasing positive mood states during the cold weather months." And taking your run outdoors helps boost your mood even more: One study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that people who exercised outdoors reported increased energy, decreased feelings of depression, and were more likely to repeat their workouts.

Running in cold weather might keep your metabolism going strong.

"If you believe in evolutionary theory, our bodies are programmed to preserve our fat stores in the winter, slowing down our metabolisms in direct response to our decreased exercise levels," says Holland. "Running in the cold serves to 'trick' the body, preventing this seasonal slowdown of metabolism and helping to maintain a healthy weight."

Running in cold weather may help you burn more calories.

Reminder: Burning calories shouldn't be the sole reason you're trying your hand at running in cold weather, and there are plenty of other health benefits that come with pounding the pavement. But if calories are of interest to you, know that chilly temperatures may change a certain type of body fat into a kind that burns calories. ICYDK, there are different types of body fat, including white, brown, and shades in between. White fat is what's commonly thought of as "unwanted" body fat. Brown fat is metabolic tissue that burns calories, and there's a growing body of scientific literature that suggests that exercising and exposing your body to cold temps turns white fat into brown. (Here's more on the science of building muscle and burning fat.) That means running in cold weather could not only help you burn calories, but it could also change your body composition.

How to Stay Safe While Running In Cold Weather

Armed with the right gear and frame of mind, running through a fresh snowfall can be magical. "There's nothing more serene and beautiful than running through a winter wonderland," says Jess Underhill, running coach and founder of Race Pace Wellness. "It's often a quiet, peaceful meditation." With fewer people hitting the pavement, your favorite path or trail will likely be less crowded, too. "Winter is long and getting outdoors is good for the mind," says Underhill. "It will make you feel like a warrior."

Here, Underhill and other running pros break down what you need to know about staying safe while running in cold weather.

1. Warm Up Inside

Warm up inside with simple dynamic stretches like walking lunges, bodyweight squats, and leg swings before running in cold weather "It's much easier to head out the door if you start your run feeling warm," says Underhill. Don't worry about breaking a sweat as long as you start running right away. "You'll stay warm enough not to get cold," says Underhill.

Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track & Field certified coach and founder of Strength Running, recommends an 8-minute dynamic warm-up with 10 to 20 repetitions of each of the following moves: walking deadlifts, knee hugs, groiners, donkey kicks, mountain climbers, iron cross, lunge matrix, leg swings, and lateral leg swings. This should increase heart rate, core body temperature, and range of motion, and also open capillaries and lubricate joints. "This will ensure you don't strain a muscle or injure your joints," adds Sean M. Wells, D.P.T., A.T.C./L., C.S.C.S., fitness expert at bistroMD.

2. Adjust Your Expectations

Don't expect every winter run to be your fastest. "Winter conditions like snow, ice, or wind make running slower and more difficult, so paces that were easy during the fall won't be so easy during the winter months," says Fitzgerald. What's more, "your performance in the cold can start to decrease as the temperature drops below 40 degrees," says Wells. "Peripheral blood vessels constrict, joints feel stiffer, and muscles are harder to warm up."

"Try to take this time to focus on effort level versus staring at the pace on your GPS watch," adds Underhill. And keep in mind that your body may take a while to warm up, too. "It will take longer to settle into your normal pace as your muscles warm up. But once you're warm, temperature shouldn't have a big impact on pace, unlike heat and humidity," says Fitzgerald. "It's easier to run fast when it's cool than when it's hot." (

3. Prepare for Potential Slips

Frigid temperatures and precipitation can make for icy paths and sidewalks. Luckily there are a few things you can do to make sure you stay steady on your feet while running in cold weather, says Mike Ross, exercise physiologist at Gottlieb Center for Fitness, part of the Loyola University Health System. First, check the treads on your shoes. If they're worn down, your running shoes won't give you the traction you need.For running on ice and snow, consider a slip-on traction device for your running shoes, like Yaktrax RUN (Buy It, $45, amazon.com) or Kahtoola NANOspikes (Buy It, $50, amazon.com), which make each step more sure-footed. (If you notice any of these signs, you're probably wearing the wrong sneakers for your workout.)

Second, have a plan. Think about what would happen if you fell anywhere on your route. Could you get help? If not, map out a safer alternative and make sure to take your cell phone. And again, slow down while running in cold weather. Trying to go your normal pace when it's icy out pushes your sense of balance.

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Yaktrax RUN

Yaktrax RUN
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Kahtoola NANOspikes

Kahtoola NANOspikes
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4. Protect Your Extremities

If you've ever built a snowman, skied, or skated outdoors, you know that fingers and toes get especially cold."The biggest concern with exercising outdoors in the winter is the risk of frostbite," says Wells. Make sure you cover your hands and ears, and turn around if your skin starts to sting or feel numb (especially the skin on your nose and chin, areas that are more difficult to cover).

Keep your feet dry while running in cold weather by investing in a pair of Gore-Tex running shoes made with a waterproof, windproof, and breathable liner. Asics, Brooks, New Balance, Saucony and other brands make a range of these heavy-duty shoes, including the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35 (Buy It, $220, amazon.com) for the trail and Saucony Ride ISO (Buy It, $120, amazon.com) for the road. And don't forget your socks: Forgo no-show styles in favor of a wool tech pair that will cover your ankles and wick away sweat.

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Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35
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Saucony Ride ISO

Saucony Ride ISO
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5. Cover Your Skin

Winter wind and sun can wreak havoc on your skin. Fitzgerald recommends covering your face with Vaseline (Buy It, $4, amazon.com) or BodyGlide (Buy It, $10, amazon.com) to protect your body's largest organ while running in cold weather. Wearing a scarf or mask over your mouth and nose will work too, as well as make it easier to breathe. Underhill also recommends a product like Aquaphor (Buy It, $14, amazon.com) to protect your lips.

And don't forget about the sun when you're running in cold weather, as it can be especially strong at altitude on your winter ski vacation. The sun's harmful ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer are still a threat in winter. "No matter the time of year, no matter where they live, runners should wear sunscreen when they run outdoors!" says Jessica Hunter-Orange, a doctor and runner who practices dermatology at the London Skin Disorders Clinic in London, Ontario. "Fully reapply sunscreen every hour when running." Dr. Hunter suggests a broad-spectrum block with SPF 30 or greater that protects against UVA and UVB rays, along with an SPF lip balm. The Kiehl's Super Fluid UV Mineral Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ (Buy It, $40, sephora.com) is a mineral-based sunscreen, which means that it won't cause breakouts, and it's not sticky, so you can run for miles without it bothering you.

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Vaseline

Vaseline
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BodyGlide Face Glide

BodyGlide Face Glide
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Aquaphor Healing Ointment

Aquaphor Healing Ointment
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Kiehl's Super Fluid UV Mineral Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50+

Kiehl's Super Fluid UV Mineral Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50+
Sephora

6. Dress for Warmer Weather

As a general rule for running in cold weather, dress for a temperature of 10 to 25 degrees warmer than it is outside, accounting for your personal preference. "Running produces a lot of body heat, so you'll feel warmer than the outside temperature, especially with the right gear," says Fitzgerald.

Play with what works best for you. "After your run, make note of how you would dress differently on your next run, if at all," suggests Underhill. "Use your running log to write down what you wore for various weather conditions so that the next time you head out the door you'll know exactly how to dress."

7. Layer Up

Layers that you can peel or zip away as you warm-up, and put back on as you cool, are key when it comes to running in cold weather. "It's important to be able to unzip something or take off a layer to regulate your temperature throughout the run as the conditions change," says Underhill. During the course of one out-and-back run you might encounter a headwind, tailwind, sun, and shade, which will each affect your warmth differently. Choose technical fabrics like polyester, nylon, and wool that wick moisture away from your body.

Focus on wearing two or three loose, light layers helps trap warm air, says Amy J. Derick, M.D., clinical instructor of dermatology at Northwestern University in Illinois. "The first layer should be made of a synthetic material, which wicks moisture away from your body," she says. "The next layer should be insulating (wool and fleece are good insulators and hold in more body heat than cotton), and the top layer should be windproof and waterproof."

A long-sleeve base layer like Brooks' Array Longsleeve (Buy It, $48, amazon.com) or Under Armour ColGear Authentic Mock (Buy It, $38, was $50, underarmour.com) pairs well with a cold-weather vest like the Sweaty Betty Accelerate Running Vest (Buy It, $168, sweatybetty.com), which is lightweight, water-resistant, and comes with an adjustable pack-away hood. A windproof jacket is a must too. "Most runners under-estimate the wind," says Fitzgerald.

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Brooks Array Longsleeve

Brooks Array Longsleeve
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Under Armour ColGear Authentic Mock

Under Armour ColGear Authentic Mock
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Sweaty Betty Accelerate Running Vest

Sweaty Betty Accelerate Running Vest
Sweaty Betty

8. Alter Your Stride

While running in cold weather, adjust your gait on slick surfaces. "It's easier to run on a slippery surface if you take shorter, faster steps," says Fitzgerald. "By landing underneath your body, rather than 'reaching out' with your foot, you'll remain more stable and be less likely to fall." Be on the lookout for icy patches, too. "Slow down your pace and try to stay in areas where it's clear you're running on snow and not ice," says Underhill.

9. Plan Your Finish

When you stop running, your body temperature plummets. That's fine on a hot, summer day, but can lead to chills in cold temps. "Sweat can cause you to freeze when you stop running," says Underhill. Plan to finish your run with a hot shower, change of clothes, and warm beverage right away. "You can stretch and foam roll later on," says Underhill. "It's more important to get warm."

10. Stay Home When Necessary

When is it too cold to go outside? "I've coached runners in Canada, Alaska, and Sweden. With the right winter running gear, you can run through most conditions," says Fitzgerald. "But if it's less than -20 degrees Fahrenheit, you may want to stay inside."

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