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Is Exercising in Cold Weather Safe?

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Is Exercising in Cold Weather Safe?

Dec 29, 2021

Is it risky exercising outside when it’s cold? Is filling your lungs with cold, dry air unhealthy? What if there’s also an inversion? Are these just excuses some of us use to justify not exercising during the winter or are they legitimate concerns? Dr. Russell Vinik address these and other common questions he gets about exercising in the cold.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Exercising outside in winter. I'm here with Dr. Russell Vinik, Internal Medicine at University of Utah Health Care. Dr. Vinik, should we exercise in the winter?

Dr. Vinik: Absolutely. Exercise is good for you, whether it's summer or winter. There's always a fear of going outside in winter. We worry about frostbite, but frostbite is very rare especially if you're dressed appropriately. There is some risk in people with heart conditions. It does create a little bit more work on your heart to exercise in the extremes of temperature, whether it be very hot or very cold. But for most of us, it will do us a lot of good.

And it's certainly not a good reason to stay at home and sit on the couch because you're worried about the temperature. People often dress very, very warmly, and there's actually a risk of overheating in the winter if you dress too warmly. So the most important thing you could do exercising in the winter is to wear layers that way, you can take off layers as you get too hot. But overall, it will do you a lot of good. You'll pump a lot of blood through your body and it'll help your cardiovascular health, as well as your mental health.

Interviewer: I heard you mention, it's probably people with heart conditions shouldn't exercise as much. That surprises me. It seems like people would be more worried about the cold air in their lungs, and the cold and dry air.

Dr. Vinik: Yeah. So even people with heart conditions can and should exercise because there's still benefit in doing that. I would just talk with the doctor before you do that. Now, obviously, we all feel that cold air in our lungs when we're exercising in the outside on cold days. That's not necessarily bad for you. If you have asthma, some people do have asthma that can worsen with cold and that's something to be cautious with, and even have an inhaler if you're going to run. One thing we worry about in Salt Lake City, though, is our inversion.

And when it gets cold outside the inversion settles in the valley, and that increases air pollution. And the two together can actually make things worse on your body than just one or the other. So the times to be very cautious are those days when the ozone is collected in the valley, we see a lot of particulate pollution, and it's cold. Especially if you have heart or lung problems, then you should probably consider staying indoors. But for the most part, getting outside is a good thing. It's hard to get enough exercise indoors. Some of us have the ability to do it easier than others, but it shouldn't be a good reason to sit on the couch.

Interviewer: So if we're middle-aged or younger, and pretty much healthy all the time, even when there's inversion, we shouldn't really worry about it, we should still go for that run?

Dr. Vinik: Absolutely. You could still easily go out for a run. The risk to your body is very, very low. In fact, the benefit to your body is a lot more than the risk associated with going out in cold weather or the inversion.

I think just getting out and working, and it doesn't have to be a huge amount of exercise, 20 minutes, three, four times a week would do a great deal for your heart/lungs, as well as your body, just weight and preventing obesity and all the bad things that come with a sedentary lifestyle

updated: December 29, 2021
originally published: January 7, 2016