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Tips for exercising in winter

Jim Pugliese, [January 06 2012]

It's cold, the days are shorter and soon there will be snow and ice out there. But winter is no time to let your workout go into hibernation.

There are great outdoor winter sports that burn calories and build muscle – skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and others. Never tried any of these? Take some lessons. You might find you enjoy them. If you're looking for something a little simpler, try brisk winter walks, around your neighborhood or in the woods. If you do exercise outside, take some precautions:

• If you have asthma, heart problems or other medical conditions, check with your doctor before exercising in cold weather.
• Wear layers. Your base layer should be a thin, breathable fabric that allows sweat to evaporate. Avoid cotton, which holds moisture. For the middle layer, choose a slightly heavier, sweat-wicking fabric like fleece. Your outer layer should be wind and water resistant, but breathable. Be sure your head, feet and hands are covered, since they're more vulnerable to frostbite. Finally, make sure your shoes have sufficient traction to handle snow and ice. They should also be water resistant and warm.
• Be seen. If you're out early in the morning or evening when it's dark, wear a reflective vest and bright clothing.
• Warm up before you get going. Cold makes muscles extra tight, which can be uncomfortable and make you more prone to strains and other injuries. Do some light exercises and stretching before you head outdoors.
• Don't forget the sunscreen, and water or sports drink. The sun might not feel as hot in winter, but the damaging rays are still there, and they'll reflect off snow. You might not feel as hot, either, but you're still sweating. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after your workout.

If you really don't want to be outside in the cold, winter is a great time to try some new moves indoors. At the gym, join a group exercise class, check out some different cardio machines or challenge yourself with a some new strength-training exercises (talk to a fitness professional if you're not sure what to do). If you prefer exercising at home, try some workout videos or borrow your kids' Wii (better yet, engage them in a little friendly competition).

The bottom line: Keep moving. Nothing beats the winter blahs like staying active, and when swimsuit season rolls around again, you'll be ready.

Jim Pugliese is an exercise physiologist and certified health fitness specialist with The Hospital of Central Connecticut Department of Health Promotion. Learn more about exercise programs at HOCC