How to change your fitness routine in winter

man running through forest in snow

How to change your fitness routine in winter

Does jumping out of bed in the morning to exercise, or heading for a jog around the park after work, feel a whole lot less appealing to you when it’s pitch-black outside, not to mention very chilly? Fear not – there are easy changes you can make to prevent the winter months from stealing your fitness mojo. And even some added benefits to making it out into the cold weather…

Get outside and feel the cold

We get it: unless you’re Wim Hof (the Dutch athlete famed for his ability to withstand freezing conditions), it can feel unappealing to exercise outside when the weather is cool. But the extra boost colder temperatures can add to your workout might sway you.

Did you know our bodies actually burn extra calories in response to the cold? That means you might not have to work as hard if this is your goal – and can spend an extra five minutes in bed.

This effect is down to what’s known as ‘brown fat’: special heat-producing fat cells that work to keep our bodies warm in chilly conditions. Exposure to colder temperatures in winter increases the amount of brown fat in our bodies, according to research by scientists at Stockholm University.

Being outdoors also naturally lifts your mood, as daylight is thought to promote the release of the feel-good chemical serotonin. So, don’t be too quick to swap your usual outdoor jog for an indoor gym session. It’s all about being prepared…

Woman holding foot to stretch legs before workout

Prioritise your warm-up

A word of caution: while there are specific benefits to exercising outdoors in colder weather, anyone undertaking physical activity outside when the temperature drops should warm up properly first. Otherwise, you’re potentially more vulnerable to injury.

That’s because lower temperatures cause our muscles to lose heat, contract and stiffen, which is what makes our bodies feel tighter in the winter. However, get that blood flowing before you venture outside, and it won’t feel so bad, we promise!

How best to warm up can depend on the type of activity you are undertaking, but it usually means gently and gradually stretching muscles in readiness for exercise, rather than launching straight into it.

Our joints can also feel more painful in cold weather. If good joint health in general is a concern of yours, you might want to take a Nature’s Truth supplement to help keep things smooth and flexible.

Be seen and be safe

Running, cycling or even walking in winter can be extremely risky if motorists can’t see you – so as soon as the days get shorter, with darker mornings and earlier evenings, add some reflective elements to your outdoor clothing.

This could be as simple as wearing reflective wristbands, a high-vis vest, or attaching flourescent strips to existing outfits (these can be taped or stitched on). In general, consider wearing brighter colours than usual when exercising outside in winter: as well as making it easier for you to be seen, it might even boost your mood.

If your dog accompanies you outdoors, you can get them a reflective collar, too.

Some people find it reassuring to carry a small, discreet personal safety alarm when exercising outside in the dark, with various models available which can easily be clipped to your door keys or water bottle.

And a head torch isn’t just for miners, but could be a convenient – and actually rather fun – way to light your path on an evening jog.

woman stretching in front of wall wearing bright gym gear

Keep your body dry

Protecting your body from the elements is crucial when exercising in cold weather. That’s because being both cold and wet is not only not fun, it might make you more vulnerable to catching a cold, and could even put you at risk of hypothermia, if you’re out for an extended period.

Opt for base layers made from synthetic fabrics that repel moisture and ‘wick’ sweat away from your skin, rather than those that soak it up (such as a cotton T-shirt).

A lightweight, breathable layer, such as a shell jacket, will also protect you from any rainfall.

Make winter the time you try something new

If you’re still not persuaded of the merits of exercising outside in winter, or are worried about feeling unsafe when it’s dark outside, the colder months could be the ideal time to sign up to a regular indoor class, such as a yoga, Pilates or spin session.

You might find you discover a new favourite that you want to continue year-round.

Sticking to the regular commitment of classes on certain days and at certain times can help you to keep active over the darker months. Teaming up with a friend has also been shown to help people stick to their exercise habit.

If you strongly prefer solo exercise, simply swimming laps of your local pool could be an indoor alternative to running laps in your local park. Whatever you do, don’t give up the habit of moving your body just because it’s winter.

You need the mood boost and health benefits of exercise in winter as much as – if not more than – any other time of the year.

Keep up with the latest fitness advice from Nature’s Truth here.

Nature's Truth

Nature's Truth

Writer and expert