Do not exercise outdoors when the temperature is below -10°c (15°F) or when the combined air temperature and wind-chill are below this level.
Can I Exercise in Cold Weather?
The answer to this question depends on what the outdoor temperature is. You can exercise outdoors if the temperature is above -10°C with the wind chill factor.
Check the temperature before going out for your exercise. For the most up-to-date information check the weather channel on a TV, radio, or internet website.
If it is too cold to exercise outdoors, there are lots of places you can exercise indoors.
Dressing for Outdoor Exercise in Cold Weather
Dress in Layers
You can safely exercise outdoors in cold weather if you dress right. Dressing in layers is the best way to dress for cold weather exercise because the layers trap air, which is a good insulator. Wear layers that will:
- keep you dry
- keep you warm
- protect you from wet and windy conditions protect your head, hands, and feet
To keep dry, the layer next to the skin should be a ribbed undershirt made of either:
- a synthetic material such as “polypropylene” a wool/cotton blend
- a silk or wool/polypropylene blend
This layer allows moisture (sweat) to escape or “wick away”. A 100% cotton T-shirt is the worst garment to wear next to the skin in cold weather. When cotton becomes wet with perspiration it sticks to the body and eliminates air pockets, reducing insulation and wicking away body heat.
To stay warm, the next layer should be loosely woven, like a loose-weave wool sweater. A loose weave allows for maximum air trapping, and the natural oils in wool mean that wool will insulate you even when it gets wet.
If you need another layer of warmth, this could be a sweat-top, tracksuit top, or a polar-fleece provided it is a cotton/wool or a synthetic blend. The fabric of this layer should be a tighter weave. This layer helps to reduce the effect of wind-chill and gives you more insulation.
Protect Against Wet and Windy Conditions
This layer protects you from wind, rain, and snow, and should be water-resistant. This layer needs to be “breathable”. This layer is used for wind, wet and extreme cold.
Protect Your Hands and Feet
Since you lose 20% of your body heat from your head, wearing a hat is important in very cold weather. Mittens and wool blend socks will protect your hands and feet from frostbite and skin damage.
If you find that you experiencing difficulty breathing when you exercise in cold air, you should consider using a face mask or wrapping up well with a scarf. By covering your mouth, you will be able to breathe warmer air when you go outdoors.
Wear your usual running shoes. They will have a good grip on the ground so that you can avoid slipping and are also lightweight. Do not wear heavy winter boots. You may also consider attaching traction to your shoes to help prevent falling or slipping. Find out what to look for in a running shoe (PDF, opens in new window) »
Tips for Safe Cold Weather Exercise
- Use your heart rate and rating of perceived exertion (RPE scale) to help you adjust your intensity or pace. View or download the rating of perceived exertion (RPE scale) (PDF, opens in new window) »
- Slow your pace of walking or jogging/running to avoid over-exerting yourself.
- Plan your outdoor route to be a short “out and back” route. Wind and sun conditions can change quickly.
- Always do your warm-up and cool-down. Make sure you are dressed warmly enough to stay warm for these parts of your exercise.
- Drink water before and after your exercise to stay hydrated.
Outdoor Exercise in Certain Weather Conditions
Snow-covered and icy Surfaces
Please keep in mind that it may be harder to walk through the snow. This will increase the intensity of your walk. Walking on ice increases your risk of slipping and falling.
The wind can make it harder for you to exercise. Headwinds (when you walk into the wind) increase the chance of you feeling chilled. It also increases your level of effort.
Rain and wet snow
- Exercising outdoors in rain or wet snow has its own challenges. Your clothing will not keep you warm and you will lose body heat. Please be mindful.
- Pay attention when the sunshine turns to overcast
- Pay attention when sunshine turns to cloudy conditions. When this change happens, the temperature can drop by 7°C.
Places To Exercise Indoors
Consider an indoor exercise session:
- Community Centers and Gym facilities: Find a community center or a gym in your area.
- Mall Walking: Mall walking is a great free alternative for indoor walking.
- At Home: Exercise equipment (such as a treadmill, stationary bicycle or elliptical machine), is a great way to stay active in the comfort of your own.
- Exercise videos available online on YouTube are also another way you can stay active indoors.
Your Body's Response to Exercising in Cold Weather
Cold temperatures put stress on the cardiovascular system. They do this in 2 different ways.
1. Cold temperatures increase blood pressure.
When the body temperature falls, the blood vessels under the skin get narrower. This shunts warm blood away from the surface of the body to reduce the amount of heat lost from the skin. The narrowing of blood vessels under the skin causes an increase in pressure in the blood vessels. This makes the heart work harder.
For people with cardiovascular disease, this causes an increase in blood pressure and puts an additional load on the heart.
2. Cold temperatures cause coronary arteries to narrow.
When you breathe in cold air through your mouth, the nerve endings in the back of your throat are stimulated. This causes your coronary arteries to narrow. This is called "reflex vasoconstriction".
The narrowing of the coronary arteries because of the cold is known as a spasm of the coronary arteries and may result in chest discomfort.
Exercise & Hot Weather
When you exercise, the working muscles in your body create heat, which is transported around the body by your blood.
As your body temperature increases, the blood vessels near the skin open and the sweat glands work harder. The body is cooled by the evaporation of sweat from the skin and the transfer of heat from the blood to the air. In this way, the body tries to maintain its ideal temperature of 37°C.
Exercising in Hot Humid Weather
When the air is humid (already saturated with water), it limits the amount of sweat that can evaporate; instead, sweat just rolls off your skin. When the air is hot, it does not cool the blood close to the surface of your skin. These conditions put you at risk of becoming overheated and dehydrated.
Fluid is lost from your blood when you sweat heavily while exercising in hot humid weather. When there is less fluid in the blood, your heart has to work harder to deliver blood and oxygen to exercising muscles.
Signs of overheating include:
- an increase in heart rate that is more pronounced than usual
- excessive fatigue
- an increase in irregular or skipped heartbeats. Know the signs of irregular or skipped heartbeats »
- light-headedness or dizziness
Dehydration occurs when the body does not have enough fluid. Dehydration can occur in phases, with each phase becoming more serious.
There are 3 stages of dehydration.
Stage 1: Heat Cramps
Heat cramps may happen when you first start to become dehydrated.
Signs of heat cramps:
Cramps in the calves and/or abdomen due to a loss of sodium from muscle cells.
Stage 2: Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion can occur when you are exposed to high temperatures and you do not replace fluids.
Signs of heat exhaustion
- Fatigue and weakness leading to dizziness. Shortness of breath.
- Nausea, vomiting.
Stage 3: Heat Stroke
Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Heatstroke happens when the body’s temperature has risen to 39°C or higher.
Signs of heatstroke
- Be unbalanced or unsteady on your feet. Feel confused or disoriented.
- Have bizarre behaviour.
- Your body can no longer sweat!
Tips for Safe Hot Weather Exercise
- Drink before, during, and after your exercise. Water is the best fluid replacement.
Follow these guidelines to stay well hydrated.
- Drink 6-8 ounces before exercise, every 20 minutes during exercise, and
- following cool-down.
- Do not wait until you feel thirsty to drink.
- Speak to your doctor if you have been restricted on how much fluid you can have in a day.
Watch for Symptoms
- Be aware of any chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, dizziness, or skipped beats.
- Monitor your heart rate and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) and reduce the speed and distance of your exercise if you need to. View or download the rating of perceived exertion (PDF, opens in new window) »
Dress for the Hot Weather
- Wear light-coloured, loose weave, and comfortable clothing. This allows for air circulation.
- Wear a Lightweight hat.
Give Yourself Time to Get Used to the Hot and Humid Weather
Reduce your exercise outdoors for at least one week to allow your body to get used to the weather conditions. For example, you may choose to do a shorter distance or a slower pace of walking.
Avoid Drinking Alcohol
Alcohol acts as a diuretic. This means that it reduces the amount of water in your body. When there is less water in your body, there is less blood for your heart to pump.
Having less blood for your heart to pump makes your heart work harder.
Alcohol can also affect your judgment. Do not exercise after drinking alcohol.
Know Your Medicines
You may notice a difference in how you feel now that you are on certain cardiac medicines.
- Some beta-blockers may reduce your ability to sweat. This may reduce your heat tolerance.
- Diuretics (water pills) may cause a loss of potassium. Potassium is also lost through sweat. You may need to discuss with your doctors how to safely replace your body’s potassium. Too much or too little potassium can cause irregular or skipped beats.
- Diabetes medications may not work effectively in hot weather. Hot weather and the increased risk of dehydration can increase the risk of blood glucose rising or falling, causing hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. Dehydration can also be more of a risk when blood glucose is higher.