Winter usually means we spend most of our time cooped up indoors, with little in the way of fresh air or sunlight. That’s why it’s great to get outside whenever we can for a brisk walk, run or any other form of exercise – not only will you burn calories and increase your circulation, but you’ll also give your mood, energy levels and metabolism a much-needed boost. However, it’s important to dress appropriately when training outdoors in winter, both for comfort and safety’s sake. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to dressing for cold weather exercise, to keep you cosy and performing at your peak.

In the meantime, if you need a bit of inspiration to get you out the door, consider signing up for a winter event in our Vitality Run Series, or head along to your local parkrun – you’ll earn Vitality points, get fit and enjoy a great day out. Time to bundle up and get moving!

Layer up

Wearing sensible layers is the key to staying comfortable during an outdoor winter workout. This allows you to add and remove clothing based on the current conditions and the type of activity you’re doing. Start with a thin base layer made from a performance fabric that will wick sweat and condensation away from your skin. Cotton is a bad idea, as it will absorb this moisture and stay wet, which also increases the risk of chafing.

In crisp, cool conditions you may be able to get away with a long-sleeved performance top and tights, but as the temperature drops, your upper body may need an extra layer of insulation in the form of a thermal gilet or jumper in a lightweight, breathable fabric, such as performance fleece.

Normally your legs produce enough heat to stay comfortable in wicking tights alone, but if it’s wet or extremely windy you may need to add a breathable waterproof, wind-blocking layer to both upper and lower body, as being wet can cause you to lose heat much faster. Wind also has a chilling effect, which cyclists in particular should keep in mind – make sure exposed skin is covered when travelling at high speeds.

For successful layering, remember that you’ll heat up as you start to exercise – so if you feel a bit chilly when you first head out, you’ve probably got it right. Don’t overdress or you may end up overheating, which not only makes your workout far less pleasant, but also puts you at risk of hypothermia if you end up drenched in sweat.

Cover your head and extremities

You can lose as much as 40 per cent of your body heat through your head, and another 30 per cent via your hands and feet, so it’s important to keep all your extremities covered when the temperature drops. Lightweight wicking gloves and socks will keep your fingers and toes dry even as you work up a sweat, while a thin beanie or running cap insulates your ears and crown (a headband protects ears when it’s not quite as cold).

In properly frigid conditions, mittens provide more warmth as they keep fingers (and your body heat) all together, while specialist wool running socks keep feet toasty. Be careful of using a double layer of socks, as this can lead to bunching and chafing, and always avoid cotton in case it gets wet.

In very cold weather, a neck gaiter shelters your lower face and neck and is less constricting than a scarf – plus those who find cold air affects their breathing can use it as a mask to help warm their breath.

Choose your shoes wisely

You may need to upgrade your footwear in order to make outdoor winter exercise safe and effective. For walking and snow sports, a proper snow boot or insulated, waterproof hiking boot may be most appropriate, but for activities such as running or cycling you will still require something lighter and more flexible. Depending on how cold it gets in your area, you may be able to get away with your regular trainers and a warmer pair of socks – but make sure you actually have space in your shoes for the extra thickness (some people buy a larger pair of trainers specifically for use with winter socks).

Alternatively, you may wish to upgrade to a trail running shoe, which usually has a more substantial tread and more solid sides. If possible, try to find a shoe with minimal mesh, which – although it’s great for ventilation in milder weather – tends to let in water, leaving your feet wet and vulnerable to heat loss and frostbite. (Luckily, Vitality members get 50 per cent off a pair of running shoes from our partner Sweatshop – the perfect excuse to invest in a pair for winter use!)

Take particular care in icy conditions, too – you may even wish to invest in special traction devices that go over your shoes and help improve your grip on slippery surfaces.

A few extras

On raw, windy days, applying Vaseline or a similar petroleum-based product to exposed skin can help protect against the drying effects of the cold. It can also be used under clothes to help guard against chafing.

Remember that snow reflects the sun’s rays, enabling them to bounce back at you from all angles, so on bright days you should still wear sunglasses and sun cream, even in winter.
Finally, short winter days mean it’s more likely you’ll end up exercising outside after dark – be sure to wear reflective tape or clothing to make sure you’re easily visible to traffic, and be aware of your surroundings at all times.

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