How to Weatherproof Your Workouts For 365 Days of Safe Outdoor Exercise

Tips for exercising outdoors

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Outdoor exercise can be an amazing way to change up your workout routine. Getting out of the gym and into nature provides a unique opportunity to experience different scenery as you go about your day. This doesn't mean outdoor exercise is without its obstacles—the cold winter months and hot, humid summer months can pose a challenge.

Whether it's decreased motivation, fear of injury, or uncertainty about how to dress for both comfort and fitness level, weather can certainly get in the way of hitting your fitness goals.

Benefits of Outdoor Exercise

With the proper knowledge and plan, there is no reason you can't be enjoying outdoor activity all year round. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, exercise can be performed safely in most cold-weather climates with a comprehensive strategy for preventing injuries, decreasing cold stress with proper clothing and nutrition, and knowing signs and symptoms of cold injuries.

There are so many benefits of year-round, outdoor exercise. Exercise is a natural antidepressant and can help decrease affects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the colder months. Working out in the sunshine any time of year increases levels of serotonin, a hormone that influences mood.

Additionally, exercising outdoors is a great way to involve other family and friends. You can go for a walk, jog, or take an outdoor workout class. You may be more likely to stick with it if its a fun social outing with an accountability partner.

When to Avoid Outdoor Exercise

While outdoor exercise has a number of advantages, you will want to consider air quality and temperature to know when to stay inside. If you have allergies or asthma, exercising in poor air quality can trigger attacks. Air quality tends to be the poorest in the afternoon, so try to avoid outdoor exercise during that time.

Extremely high and low temperatures are taxing on the body and can make it unsafe to exercise outside. If you see temperatures 90 degrees and above or below freezing, you may want to consider taking your workout inside.

How Does Weather Impact Injuries?

Weather can aggravate already existing sports injuries as well. In very cold weather, muscles and tendons are tighter than usual. While your injury might be feeling good during exercise, you may feel extra soreness later that could take longer to heal.

It is important to take certain precautions when exercising in extreme hot or cold weather to ensure that you don't make the injury worse, running the risk of sidelining you longer. Athletic trainer, Raechel Tomaselli, BSN, RN, ATC says, "both temperature extremes can make an injury feel 90-100% fine while running and then much worse after."

Tomaselli goes on to explain that muscles respond differently in extreme weather and physiologically your body is putting energy into keeping you warm or cool, not protecting your injury.

What may seem like an easy workout in 50 or 60 degree weather is no longer easy on your body in either temperature extremes. Preparing your body for what it is about to do (AKA getting a good warm up in!) is vital to keeping you healthy in all types of weather.

Exercising in Cold Weather

Many of us are warm-weather outdoor workout enthusiasts, quickly running back inside when the temperatures begin to drop. Muscles and joints are stiffer in colder weather, so your body will do whatever it can to keep your core temperature consistent and prevent it from decreasing to an unsafe temperature. Blood flow is prioritized for internal organs while limiting blood flow to arm and leg muscles.

Stiffer muscles and slower reaction times increase risk for strains and tears of tendons, muscles, and ligaments. The combination of low atmospheric pressure and greater demands on your body to keep internal temperature up are just a few reasons why injuries are seen more often in colder weather.

Exercising in Hot Weather

Conversely, there are many factors to consider when participating in hot weather outdoor workouts. Just like in cold weather conditions where the body works hard to keep your core temperature warm, in hot conditions, your body is working on overdrive to cool your internal temperature.

No matter what temperature it is, most of us get hot and sweaty during a workout, which is a normal response to working muscles. Some of this heat is released into the environment and some elevates core body temperature. The temperature outside largely affects how efficient the body is at releasing heat into the environment. When the outside temperature is already very high, the body is less and less efficient at cooling down.

High body temperature can lead to things like heat edema or swelling of lower extremities, heat syncope resulting from a dramatic reduction in blood pressure, and muscle cramps from dehydration and electrolyte deficiencies.

How to Prepare for Outdoor Workouts

Thankfully, with some careful preparation and planning, you can safely engage in all outdoor sports through every season.

Cold Weather Workouts

Especially in the winter months, be sure to do 10-15 minutes of dynamic stretches and short aerobic reps before heading out for your activity. Additionally, running coach Kai Ng recommends taking a hot shower before going out for a cold-weather run to increase internal body temperature.

Tomaselli always stresses to her clients to dress in layers. She says "don't head outside for a 5K on a 40-degree day in shorts and a t-shirt because you know you will be warm after one mile. Plan out the layers you will wear and where on your body they will go when you need to take them off." And don't forget gloves and hats or headbands to cover your ears.

Be careful in inclement weather conditions such as rain, snow, or ice to prevent falls and twisted ankles. If you feel it may be unsafe, take your activity inside if possible. If that's not possible or you love exercising in the rain, ensure you have proper shoes and gear to prevent injury.

Hot Weather Workouts

When exercising in very hot weather, Tomaselli advises wearing lighter clothes than usual. Begin your workout at a low intensity and increase slowly depending on how well your body is handling the heat.

You can also prepare your body for injury-free exercise in hot (or cold!) temperatures by how you fuel it. Be sure to stay extra hydrated in very hot and humid weather. Even in cold weather, hydration is important as you may not realize how much fluid you have lost simply because you may sweat less.

As a rule of thumb, you should replace every pound lost with 2-3 cups of water. If you are exercising for 60 minutes or longer and sweating heavily, sports drinks can be a good tool to replenish electrolytes and hydrate efficiently.

Regardless of temperature, it's always a good idea to fuel with high carbohydrate foods before exercise and recover with protein after the workout is complete. In cold weather, eat warm foods like soups, chili, and pasta to warm up the core body temperature after a chilly workout.

While winter and summer can certainly make the every day workout a bit more challenging, strategic planning allows you to enjoy exercising in all seasons, injury-free.

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By Rebecca Jaspan, MPH, RD, CDN, CDCES
Rebecca Jaspan is a registered dietitian specializing in anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia, as well as disordered eating and orthorexia.