Welcome to running in cold weather. All your months spent complaining about the intense heat of summer, are now quickly being replaced with woes of wind, ice and cold.
Since we know running is mental, let’s re-frame winter running in to the perfect time to exercise outdoors.
All right perfect, might be a stretch, but here are some surprising reasons to get your run on outside this winter and it’s more than for great base building.
Is it good to run in the winter?
HECK YES. The running in winter benefits are numerous!
According to the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology, as little as five minutes of exercise outside in winter can provide you with all the health benefits I’m about to share!
10 Benefits of Running in the Cold
Thus far winter has been hard core here in Denver, starting with 3 snowfalls of 10 inches in October and then 16 in November.
You 100% know that I LOVE using my treadmill as part of training year round.
But if you’re avoiding the cold weather running all the time, it turns out you could be short changing your training.
Of course there is the mental side of getting yourself out there when it’s uncomfortable, but there are also some other benefits you might not realize come with braving the elements.
Winter running does NOT NEED to be miserable. I’ve gone through my favorite winter running gear, especially winter running jackets and guarantee that spending a little there is going to help you enjoy these runs a whole lot more.
1. Cold Weather is Actually the Ideal Condition to Run
As much as we probably don’t like running in cold weather, it’s actually the ideal condition for a run! This is also why the majority of marathons are held during October and November.
According to an extremely in depth study, the best race performances appear to happen around 40 degrees and for every 5 degree rise in temperature, performance drops by 2.7 seconds per mile. This was based on the top athletes, so it’s likely higher on the rest of us.
2. Winter Running Means Faster Recovery
We know that putting ice on an injury is NO LONGER the ideal scenario because it slows healing, but when it comes to your workout you might just be creating less inflammation during a cold weather run and thus speeding up your post workout recovery.
Take advantage of this recovery, by still doing your warm up the right way!
When it comes to warming up for a run in cold weather, my personal favorite tip is to warm up inside.
I walk for a half mile before every run, so in the winter when that’s going to be awful I either walk on a treadmill when available or I do jumping jacks, burpees and dynamic moves to get the blood flowing so I can start the run ASAP.
3. Running Outside During the Cold Can Boost Mood
Unfortunately, many of us suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as the temperature drops and the days get colder. This refers to the feelings of depression many people experience as the weather changes.
But, fortunately, you can brush off those winter blues with some running! Running helps release hormones such as endorphins that can help you fight these feelings.
And science backs this! A study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that people who exercise outdoors consistently reported increased energy levels, decreased levels of depression, and were more like to exercise regularly.
4. Running in Cold Weather Means Faster Paces with Less Effort
Minus any tricky footing, most distance race speed records are set in the colder weather.
Exercise physiologist and author of The Marathon Method, Tom Holland, explains this: “The colder the weather, the less heat stress on the body, which makes it significantly easier to run.”
This is in contrast to running in the heat and humidity which can be extremely taxing on the body.
When the weather is hot outside, our body’s blood flow increases to the extremities to help us sweat and cool our bodies naturally. But the opposite is true when the weather is cold; this gives us more central blood volume.
This allows you to run at a lower heart rate for the same pace during cold weather, and this can be up to 15 beats per minute fewer. You’ll end up feeling less fatigued after your run and may be able to play around with speed workouts more.
Not only might you feel it’s easier to run faster during the winter, but it could be the reason for so many spring PR’s.
It turns out that the shivering, the searing lungs, all that is training your body to use oxygen more efficiently!
5. Winter Running Boosts Your Immune System
Researchers Rachel and Steven Kaplan found that being in nature resulted in a “restorative experience”.
It offers a means of getting away from stressful situations, while green spaces with natural light and shadows can also put in you in a reflective mood making your more reflective and open to options to resolve your situation!
A few other awesome study results:
- Women who spent 6 hours in the woods over the course of two days had an increase in white blood cells, hello improved immunity (Tokyo’s Nippo Medical School)
- Nature provides a break from the stimulus of our daily lives, improving focus (Psychological Science)
- Walking in nature improves positive feelings and reduces levels of depression (University of Michigan)
6. Vitamin D for Mood and Energy
You need it, the sun provides it…you gotta get outside to absorb it.
Per the above health perks of nature, one reason many believe it’s so good for our mood is Vitamin D.
A surprising number of people in the US are deficient, which can cause weight gain, moodiness, lowered immune system and inflammation. All things that are going to slow our great running!
7. Helps Prevent Winter and Holiday Weight Gain
Our bodies tend to store more fat in the winter which can slow down our metabolism, especially when accompanied by a decrease in exercise levels.
This was proven in a study conducted in Massachusetts in 2006 that followed participants for a one-year period. People not only ate more, but they exercised less as the temperatures plummeted. For this reason, our weight tends to peak in winter months. Similar studies have been conducted in Brazil and the Netherlands demonstrating the same results.
Combine that with all the delicious food we tend to eat during the holidays, and it explains the yearly articles about American’s gaining weight.
Running in cold weather can help the body combat these seasonal issues. It’ll prevent your body from metabolic slowdown and help you maintain a healthy weight all year round.
If that’s still not enough to convince you, I’ve got another great calorie burn associated benefit for you:
8. Enhanced Calorie Burn from Winter Workouts
Do you burn more calories when you run in the cold? YES!!
If running for weight loss is a goal, then let winter give you an extra boost!
Your body expends more energy attempting to raise your core temperature, which results in a higher calorie burn than an equal workout indoors.
Additionally, though I hate to say it winter weather is also often accompanied by wind, which again requires more effort and can thus increase the burn.
“If you are making athletic-level effort — cycling hard, running at a training level — you are burning 10 to 40 percent more calories in the cold than you would in more temperate temperatures,” according to Jo Zimmerman at the University of Maryland.
9. Cold Weather Running Helps Change Your Body Composition
Another surprising finding is that brown fat is activated in the cold, this is the good fat..the kind that burns off the fat you don’t want covering your hard-earned muscles!
Remember this higher calorie burn means you could run through your glycogen faster and need fuel sooner.
But that’s not all, we also have something called white fat in our body which is the ‘unwanted’ body fat we’re all looking to burn off. There’s increasing scientific evidence to suggest that exposing our bodies to cold temperatures actually turns white fat into brown fat!
This means that cold weather running can not only help burn your calories, but also help change your body composition!
Seriously if that’s not winter workout motivation after months of being surrounded by delicious homemade meals with friends and family…well then I’ve only got one left!
10. Magical Silence of Winter Running
Last but not least, there’s something magical about being out in the quiet of an early morning winter run or even an afternoon run!
We’re surrounding by tweeting phones and dinging emails, shutting all of that off and having a moment just to enjoy the silence is rejuvenating on many levels. Truly this is one that can be overlooked, but when life is A LOT…and when is adulting not A LOT, well some time to think is one heck of a gift.
The benefits of running in the cold are so obvious, but I’ll be honest I still need the reminder when I look at the temps and start to think about all the necessary layers.
I’m very lucky that in the winter I can push my runs a bit until the sun comes out, which mentally makes me believe it’s warmer!
Otherwise, I’m no stranger to doing speed workouts or long runs on the treadmill with a smile because darn it, I’m still running!
How to Stay Safe When Running in Cold Weather
Now that we’ve covered all the benefits of cold weather running, I thought I’d leave you with some top tips to keep in mind to stay safe when running in the cold outside:
Choose the Right Gear
Making sure you have the right gear is the most important aspect of cold-weather running. Lucky for you, I’ve written a very detailed guide on the best cold weather gear that includes everything you need to know to stay safe.
Some of the most important things you’ll learn in this article include how to use layers to effectively stay warm, which long-sleeve shirts and base layers are the best, why wool is a great choice to wick moisture away from your body, and why gloves and socks definitely shouldn’t be neglected.
Please AVOID cotton.
And definitely remember to take wind-chill in to account. That wind jacket might be a light piece that makes a big difference.
Wear a Mask or Scarf
Another great tip is to wear a mask or scarf over your nose and mouth while running to help lessen the impact of cold air on the lungs. I know we’re all tired of hearing about wearing a mask, but this isn’t related to the pandemic!
Wearing a mask or scarf on your face will help trap moisture and humidify the air which will make it easier to breathe while running in the cold.
Protect Your Skin
Many of us forget that we need to protect our skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays even during the winter. If you’ve been on the hunt for the best sunscreen for runners, you can read a whole guide I’ve written as a running coach.
Winter wind can also cause havoc on our skin in general, so protect it using Vaseline or Aquaphor. And don’t forget to apply some on your lips while you’re at it!
Be Careful of Potential Slips
Cold weather and precipitation can lead to icy sidewalks and paths. Consider getting some shoe spikes (ice cleats) or YakTrax for your favorite running shoes, which is a great and cheap way to gain some traction when running in the snow.
Just be ware of the forecast when winter running. It gives you a chance to be prepared for how your normal route might have changed. The right gear can absolutely make most days runnable.
Extra bonus points if you have some flexibility to run in daylight when it is snowy or icy. You’ll lessen your changes of slipping and falling.
Get Warm Right Away After You’re Done
After you’re done with your run, plan to take a hot shower and get a change of clothes to stay warm. While you’re at it, a warm beverage can also help a ton.
This is important because sweat can cause you to start freezing when you stop running. So, taking care of that is of utmost importance! Leave the static stretching and foam rolling for after you’re all warm.
More Winter Running Tips
- Must Have Winter Running Gear – how to layer and what to wear
- Tips for Running on Snow and Ice – yup it’s totally doable
- Full body indoor warm up
Need a little more help? Checkout this Winter Maintenance Plan for runners >>
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