Working Out in the Winter Cold

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It ain’t pleasant, but the gains may be worth it.

Whenever I see heavy snowfall, I’m reminded of an old Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin’s dad goes cycling during a snowstorm. When he comes home, he sings the praises of winter exercise to Calvin and his mom, who promptly scream at him to shut the door. The idea of working out outside in the middle of winter can seem head-scratching to most, but as it so happens, cold-weather exercise can actually be really good for you if you do it right.


Scientists have theorized that exercising in the cold activates a dormant genetic trait possessed by our hunter/gatherer ancestors. See, back in caveman times, hunters had to prowl the wilds for days on end in search of prey, and they didn’t have insulated clothes to keep them warm. Instead, their bodies instinctively burned a particular kind of fat that’s usually used for insulation, known as “brown fat.” It’s in this way, at least in theory, that your body burns off calories by the boatload when you work out in the cold. If that’s a little too pseudoscientific for you, here’s something more realistic: the cold lowers your heart rate. When it’s cold out, your body doesn’t need to put as much effort into regulating its temperature, so you can work out for much longer without overheating.

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So what can you do out in the snow? A jog is a perfectly good choice, though you will need to take some precautions. You’ll want some strong, grippy shoes in case of ice, and you’ll need enough layers of clothes to keep you insulated, but not so many that you can’t move freely. Weight work is an excellent choice, and in fact, you can get some great weight work in just by shoveling snow off your driveway. It’s involved, high-impact exercise, and it provides a practical service. Heck, you could even shovel other peoples’ driveways, get yourself paid!

Just remember that while working out in the cold can be beneficial, you need to prioritize your safety. If there’s a full-on blizzard outside, maybe put the work-out off for a few days.