How to train safely outdoors during winter

  • Runners and walkers are exposed to cold air when exercising outside
  • This can increase your chances of getting a cold or flu 
  • Safety while training in the dark is also a concern

If you're one of the many runners who jumped for joy when allowed to exercise outdoors again, you do, however, need to be aware that you'll be braving the cold during your daily run now that it's winter.

Winter weather brings its own risks – being exposed to cold air and rain, running out in the dark and dealing with wet, slippery sidewalks and paths can set us up for sniffles, coughs and injuries if we aren't careful. Here are some tips to stay healthy and safe during training without setting yourself up for a trip to the emergency room or doctor’s office.

1. Layer up

Avoid being exposed to the cold by dressing the part. Long-sleeve tops and leggings from made from moisture-wicking fabric will keep your limbs covered and protected against the rain, while also absorbing sweat. If you're cold and wet, you 're more likely to catch the common cold or seasonal flu. While the weather isn’t directly responsible for making you sick, the colder weather can weaken your body’s immune system, making you more prone to getting ill, which you want to avoid, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

2. Boost your immune system

A strong immune system is key to staying healthy, but even more so in winter, when you want to ward off unwelcome colds and flu. Viruses such as influenza tend to survive longer outside in colder air, ready to pounce on a human host.

Boost your immune system by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. Eating healthy might not be high on your agenda during cold weather, when comfort food sounds more attractive, but be creative with your vegetables and enjoy nutritious vegetable soups, curries, or stir fries packed with flavour. Stuck for ideas? These 11 healthy and warming winter recipes from Food24 may be a good start.

3. Mind your breathing

You have to wear a mask or buff over your mouth and nose while exercising outdoors under the latest regulations. Your lungs and ears might, however, thank you for this extra measure of protection when it's cold outside.

According to Dr Craig Jones, an ear, nose and throat specialist from the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear institute, cold air can disrupt the protective moisture layer that lines your lower airways by causing it to evaporate faster than it can be replaced. This effect can be even worse in those prone to respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and those who are suffering from conditions such as asthma.

When covering your neck, mouth and nose with a buff, it can reduce respiratory risk by warming the face, warming the air you breathe and increasing moisture, especially if you live in a cold, dry climate.

If you still feel uncomfortable running with a mask or buff, practise breathing through your nose as your mask will remain dryer for longer and it will cause less disruption in the airways. Dr Jones explains that when you breathe through your nose, cold air is warmed and moisturised as it passes through the nose, throat and upper airway, so, by the time it reaches the lower airway, it is usually warm enough not to disrupt the moisture layer there.

4. Stay safe

Colds and flu are unfortunately not your only winter worries when training outside. As we are currently not allowed to train in organised groups, we have to venture outside on our own. This can be more dangerous when it gets darker earlier and stays darker outside until later for several reasons. Not only are you a softer target for potential attackers, but you are also more at risk of injuring yourself when there is limited visibility. Combine this with wet, slippery leaves on sidewalks and you can almost guarantee yourself a stumble.

Dress in reflective clothing and wear a headlamp if you are training early in the morning. This will make it easier for drivers on their way to work to spot you. Always let members of your household know when you are going out, which route you will be taking and how long you will be away. Many runners prefer not to take a mobile phone with them as it raises their risks for being mugged, but if you're able to call someone for help in case of an injury, this can reduce your risk of more danger. Keep your phone hidden by stashing it into a runner’s belt or pocket.

Music may motivate us, but keep the volume down if you wear earphones. This will allow you to be more aware of your surroundings and potential risks such as oncoming cars.

READ | Why do you cough after exercise?

READ | How to boost your immune system while training during winter

READ | Yes, you can still exercise if you have lung disease. Here's how

Image credit: Burst from Pexels

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