By Jessica Cassity
Cool temps, dark days and rainy or snowy weather may move your exercise indoors even before winter's official start. But there are only so many times you can run on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bike before you begin to yearn for new scenery, snowflakes and all. So we've compiled the best tips for staying active this winter, no matter what Mother Nature dishes out.
In The Rain
A drizzle can quickly become a downpour, so it's important to have a large collection of waterproof -- not just water-resistant -- gear. For hiking, running or walking in the rain, a jacket with a hood is a must. (Ditch the hood while biking; instead, wear a hat underneath your helmet.) Rain-pants are also a good investment (buy ones with room to layer underneath) and waterproof footwear will help eliminate soggy shoes. Cyclists can add bicycle fenders to block water coming off the wheels. Be extra careful at intersections and when crossing streets, no matter what your sport. Drivers may have slower reaction times in the rain and pavement can be slippery; move slower than usual to give yourself and those around you plenty of time to stop.
In The Snow
A fresh blanket of snow often looks soft and inviting, but it may hide a layer of ice. Traction is a primary concern in snowy weather, and the reason many runners, hikers and walkers opt for special footwear in snow. Some shoes come with studded soles (think snow tires for your feet). Another popular choice is Yaktrax, a rubber and metal webbing that fits over the sole of a shoe to increase traction. Add more security by using trekking poles -- similar to ski poles -- to have more contact with the ground. Keep in mind that snow can be more challenging to run on than firm ground, so you may tire more easily. Cut snowy workouts short so you don't fatigue early.
In The Cold
Cold weather means cold muscles, so warm up before exercise, such as by walking slowly for a few minutes before increasing to a jog. Layer clothing to stay warm, but don't let yourself get too hot. Start with a wicking fabric like polyester that pulls moisture away from your body. (Avoid cotton -- it stays damp longer than other fabrics.) In extra-cool conditions, add a mid-layer made of wool, fleece or polyester for heat insulation. For your outer layer, choose a jacket and pants that block rain, snow or wind. Fingers, toes and ears get cold first, so cover them adequately with warm gloves, thick socks and a hat or headband. (Foot and hand warmers may be appropriate for long workouts.)
In The Dark
When daylight is in scarce supply, a lot of outdoor exercisers end up working out before sunup or after sundown. Visibility is a primary concern for twilighters, and it's always important to see and be seen. Well-lit areas, such as roads with lots of streetlights, are best; for more light, wear a headlamp, which can better illuminate the ground before you. To increase your own visibility, choose a brightly colored jacket, shoes that are highly reflective or a vest that has actual LED lights built in. And as much as you love your running playlist, to stay present, consider leaving your headphones at home -- or keep the volume turned down.
In The Wind
On a windy day, moving will be easy in one direction and hard in another. Start a workout facing into the wind: The return trip will feel easier because the wind will be at your back. And don't forget the windchill factor, which is a measure of the thermometer reading with wind. A 10-degree day with 20 mph winds can easily feel more like minus 9 degrees -- so it might be better to hit the gym after all. If you brave the elements, be sure to protect your skin. Windburn is caused by friction from the wind, often combined with UV exposure from the sun, so wearing sunscreen and protective clothing can help you have a glow from your great workout, instead of a sunburn.