Now that holidays are over and we are at a mid-point for winter, you might be itching for something to do outside your home. I love the crisp air and beautiful nature scenes that only winter can provide. I grew up in Minnesota, so we spent a lot of time outside sledding, skiing and skating. Whether you live in an area that naturally enjoys the changing seasons or you are heading to a colder climate for some fun in the snow, here are some simple tips to stay safe during cold weather outdoor activities.

Outdoor exercise is safe for almost everyone, even in cold weather. Certain conditions can put you at risk for cold related injuries so if you have heart disease, asthma, or Raynaud’s disease check with your health care provider for any necessary precautions before you start enjoying the great outdoors. [6]

Check the Weather Before Going Out

Limit exercise time outdoors, if possible, when temperature falls below -8 °F (-27 °C). Skin, muscle, tendon, and ligaments are more prone to issue injury can occur in 30 minutes or less under these conditions. [1] The wind can make it feel colder than it really is. “Fast-moving activities such as skiing, skating, or running also create their own wind and can added to this chilling effect. a wind chill.” [4] Wind direction is important. By beginning your Begin your workout facing into the wind, you’ll enjoy having have the wind at your back on the home stretch. way home. Sun can also be a factor, especially with glare shining off the snow. Usinge sunscreen that blocks both UVA/UVB rays for any exposed skin and wearing UV blocking sunglasses helps to protect your eyes from snow or ice glare.

Dress in Layers

Dressing in layers is an effective strategy for keeping the cold at bay. Your base layer should be a non-constricting moisture wicking material such as polyester or polypropylene. The middle layer can be comprised of wool/fleece/synthetic to retain warmth. The outer layer should consist of a waterproof, breathable shell that can be easily removed if you become too warm. Other ways to stay comfortable and safe are to add liners to mittens or gloves, don a good hat and put on waterproof, non-slip footwear. [2,4,6] As your workout warms you up, layers can be removed if you get too warm and can be added back when you cool off.

What to Watch For

There are added risks for winter vacationers that may not be acclimated to a higher altitude and colder temperatures. Combining the unfamiliar climate conditions with not being in adequate physical shape for the outdoor activity can pose safety concerns. [1] When participating in outdoor activities in the cold, pay attention to the following symptoms for yourself and others:

  • Decreased ability to use your hands
  • Mild shivering
  • Exposed areas appear red, pale or painful
  • Symptoms of dehydration/extreme thirst
  • High heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness


For treating a cold related injury, the first step is to move to a warm environment. Removal of cold and wet clothing and moving close to warm air and blankets helps restore body heat. While a warm spirit may sound appealing, alcohol is not a good option as it increases heat loss rather than preserving it. [4] so instead, wrap your hands around a mug of hot herbal tea or decaffeinated coffee. [1]

Other Tips

other suggestions that are important to remember as you explore the wonders of winter. If you are going to a higher altitude than you are used to, consider waiting a day or two for your body to adjust before preforming high levels of activity. Covering your mouth with a scarf or other winter gear helps warm the air you are breathing. Finally, it is just as important to stay hydrated in the winter as it is in the middle of summer. Be sure to have water at the ready for before, during and after your activity. [4]
This winter gear up and go out and enjoy the beauty of the season. Make it a goal to try something new like snow shoeing, ice skating, skiing or sledding!