Exercising in winter

4th December, 2020 • 4 min read

Note: If you have a new or ongoing cough, a high temperature (fever) or you've noticed a change in your sense of smell or taste, you may have coronavirus (COVID-19).

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As the days draw in and temperatures drop, you may be tempted to hang up your exercise gear and hibernate.

Don't. Stay active throughout autumn and winter to beat those seasonal blues and feel on top of the world.

If you're short on ideas for getting active, try the

Couch to 5K running plan
or the
Strength and Flex exercise plan
, which are ideal for beginners.

If you're not keen on exercising outdoors, check out some

gym-free workouts

And if you're looking for something less energetic, these

strength, balance, flexibility and sitting exercises
are ideal if you want to improve your health, lift your mood and remain independent. Don't worry if you've not done much for a while, these exercises are gentle, easy to follow and can also be done indoors.

Here are the main benefits of exercising in winter, and how can you make sure you do it safely.

Why should you exercise?

Regular exercise will make you feel more energetic, which should make it a little easier to get out of your warm bed on cold, dark mornings.

Your body's defences will also benefit. There’s some limited research suggesting that moderate exercise can boost the immune system, thereby reducing the risk of coughs and colds.

If the shorter days are affecting your mood, being active can improve your sense of wellbeing.

You may be tempted to eat more during the colder months. Exercising will help you manage your weight better and keep your body in shape.

Warm up before you start

If you're starting a new exercise regime, don't overdo it. Slowly build the amount of exercise you do. If you can't manage 30 minutes in one go, break it up into 10-minute chunks.

Always warm up for up to 10 minutes before you start. Walk at a brisk pace, or jog to warm your muscles.

And make sure you're dressed warm if you're going outside. Wear several layers to keep the heat in, as a lot of heat escapes through your head, so consider wearing a hat.

Stay safe while exercising

If you're exercising after dark, keep to well-lit areas and wear bright and reflective clothing. Ideally, exercise with a friend, but always tell someone where you're going.

Avoid listening to music while running outdoors. Not hearing what's going on around you can make you vulnerable.

If rain or ice is making exercise dangerous, do it another day. The weather might be better tomorrow, but an injury could take weeks to heal.

Exercise safely with a cold

Colds are more common in winter, but you don't necessarily have to stop exercising if you're feeling under the weather and think you have a cold. According to Dr Keith Hopcroft, a doctor from Basildon in Essex, use common sense and listen to your body.

"If your symptoms are not severe and you generally feel OK, then you can exercise. If you feel absolutely rotten, then it's best not to go."

However, it’s important not to exercise if you have a fever. A fever is when your body's temperature is 38C (100.4F) or above and is rarely a symptom of a cold.

"If you exercise with a fever," says Dr. Hopcroft, "it will make you feel worse. In very rare cases, exercising with a fever can lead to the virus affecting your heart, which can be dangerous."

If you have asthma, take extra care when exercising in winter as cold air can trigger symptoms. Use your inhaler before you exercise and have it with you during your activity.

Choose something you enjoy

Choose an activity that you enjoy. Now might be the time to try a new indoor activity like tai chi, yoga, rock climbing or swimming.

And you don't have to stop doing outdoor activities. If you enjoy running, don't let cold weather put you off — just make sure you’re prepared, by following the tips above.

You could also take a long walk at the weekend or go for a bike ride. Just wrap up warm and be careful if it's wet or icy.

Key points

  • exercise can boost your mood, strengthen your body’s defenses and help you manage your weight
  • choose exercise you enjoy and try indoor activities if you don’t want to go outside
  • warm up before you exercise
  • be mindful of your safety if you’re exercising in the dark
  • you can still exercise if you have a cold

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.