• Health & Wellness

    Running and Exercising in the Cold

Athlete woman and man are running during winter training outside in cold snow weather.

LA CROSSE, WI. – Exercise enthusiasts who love to run outdoors may be challenged during the cold months of winter. Facing bitter temperatures, wind chills, snow and ice can cause the most experienced runner to think twice before hitting the pavement. Karla Marley, a physical therapist at Mayo Clinic Health System Franciscan Healthcare in Holmen, has some important reminders and good advice for anyone exercising or running in the winter elements:

  1.  Dress appropriately; dress in layers. Rule of thumb is to dress like it's 20 degrees warmer than the current temperature. You should feel slightly chilled, but as you warm up you will be comfortable.
  2. Common sense will tell you to check ground conditions and watch for ice, slush and snow but make sure you have the kind of traction shoe you need for those conditions, like a trail running shoe.
  3. During winter there are fewer hours of light, so if you're running in the early morning or evening make sure you have reflective gear and wear light/bright colored clothing. Bright yellows and oranges make it easier for vehicles to see you. It's also a good idea to wear a headlamp and tail light to keep you visible.
  4. Warm up before heading out the door: walking lunges, running the stairs, jump rope or some yoga poses will help you avoid injury.
  5. You still sweat so remember to stay hydrated and replace your fluids!

Although the risk of frostbite is less than 5 percent when the air temperature is above 5 F (minus 15 C), the risk increases as the wind chill falls. At wind chill levels below minus 18 F (minus 27 C), frostbite can occur on exposed skin in 30 minutes or less.

If the temperature dips below 0 F (minus 17.8 C) or the wind chill is extreme, Marley says consider taking a break or choosing an indoor exercise instead - unless you have waterproof gear. Getting wet could make you more vulnerable to the cold, putting you at risk if your body temperature isn’t elevated enough.

Marley recommends the following rules for apparel for running under winter conditions:

    • 30 degrees F: 2 tops, 1 bottom
    • 10-20 degrees F: 2 tops, 2 bottoms (jacket over your base layer and wind pants over your tights)
    • 0-10 degrees F:  3 tops, 2 bottoms (jacket and possibly wind pants over the 2 pairs of bottoms)
    • Minus 10 to 0 degrees F:  3 tops, 2 bottoms, extra pair of mittens and scarf wrapped around your face
    • Colder than that- good idea to hit the treadmill instead.
    • Don’t forget to add in the wind chill to these suggestions.

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Mayo Clinic Health System consists of clinics, hospitals and other health care facilities that serve the health care needs of people in 70 communities in Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The community-based providers, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive the highest-quality health care close to home.