Your Guide to Winter Running

Your Guide To Winter Running

As the colder temperatures have set in here in Connecticut and turkey trots and mitten runs are coming up, it’s time to start breaking out the winter running gear. I know so many people won’t even consider running in the winter, but there are big benefits to hitting the pavement or trail when it’s cold out. Here are some reasons why you should get outside this winter and some tips for staying safe and staying warm - including my personal recommendations. 

Benefits

So many of us, myself included, suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is identified as a type of depression that has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight. These things throw our circadian rhythms off. The symptoms of SAD most often occur in the fall and winter and include feeling depressed, loss of interest in activities, lack of energy, changes in sleep and appetite, and more. There are a number of treatments for SAD, and often, more than one is necessary. One of the well-known treatments for SAD is light therapy. Light therapy requires sitting in front of a special light lamp for 20 minutes each day, mimicking the sunlight. But, if you get outside for a run during the daylight hours, not only are you experiencing the benefits of the real sunlight, but running releases endorphins (our feel good hormones). 

Approximately 42% of people in the U.S. are Vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D deficiencies cause weight gain, depression, and fatigue - along with loss of bone density. The only way your body makes Vitamin D is through exposure to the sun - another reason to get off the treadmill and get outside! 

Our bodies actually burn more calories in the cold than at more moderate temperatures! More energy is expended raising our core temperatures, resulting in a higher caloric burn. And, researchers have gained interest in “brown fat,” our adipose tissue, because it appears to be able to use regular body fat as fuel. “Brown fat” is a special kind of fat that is activated when we get cold and helps maintain our body temperatures. 

Research shows that exposure to nature has benefits for both our physical and psychological well-being. Getting outside forces us to step away from the screen. There is evidence that time in nature can perk up our tired brains, increase memory and focus, and relieve stress. There is also a strong connection between nature and happiness, and some studies show that nature might even make us nicer to other people!  

Now we know WHY we should run outside during the winter, so how do we run safely and stay warm while doing so?

Safety

To prevent injury, your warm-up is just as (if not more) important during the winter. Warm up with dynamic stretching indoors for 10 - 15 minutes before going out in the cold weather. Loosening up your muscles and bringing your heart rate up before you head out into in the cold will be a much easier transition. These stretches can include squats, walking lunges, knee hugs, mountain climbers, leg swings and more. Here's a quick video to follow for ideas that will get you started. 

It’s also important to consider road and trail conditions, and daylight hours for safety if you’re like me and sometimes venture out in the early morning hours. Some tips:

  • I fell in the dark a few years ago and since then I have worn this headlamp.
  • Understand that you may have to slow your pace and be ok with it! 
  • Alter your stride on slippery surfaces - shorten your steps to remain more stable. 
  • If the terrain is snowy or icy, try Yaktrax Run or Kahtoola Nanospikes for traction.

One more thing to think about when planning your run in the cold is how fast you will be able to get warm after you run. Your body temperature will drop quickly when you stop running, which can lead to chills in the cold weather. You'll want to get inside and out of your wet, sweaty clothes and take a warm shower as soon as possible. 

What to Wear

It’s important to dress properly when heading outside in sub-freezing temperatures. You want to be warm enough, but not overheat. It’s recommended that you dress like it’s 10 to 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. You don’t want to wear anything bulky that will prevent you from moving fluidly. This means dressing in layers of close-fitting, moisture-wicking clothes (avoid cotton) that can be removed and tied around your waist if you get too warm. (I never get too warm!)  Start with a base layer, and add on from there. 

For me, this typically consists of a base layer, a mid layer, a jacket and winter running tights. But, since temperature is subjective, you may find that a base layer and a jacket are enough for you. Your top layer or jacket should be water and windproof. Don’t forget a hat, gloves and socks that cover your ankles! I also wear sunglasses during the winter, not just because of the sun and snow glare, but to keep the wind from burning my eyes. The extreme cold is tough on our skin - so you may also want to try a barrier like Vaseline on your face if you have very dry skin that chaps easily. Here are some of my personal product recommendations:

If for nothing else, the invigorating feeling of the cold air in your lungs and the fact that so few people will brave the cold, will make you feel like a warrior and like you can conquer the world.  It might not be easy at first, but keep at it and it gets easier. Find that one friend who is just as driven as you are and will head out into the cold temperatures with you, start a running streak like the Runner’s World winter streak that runs from Thanksgiving to New Years, or join a local running club like the B.Fit Running Club.

For more information on the B.Fit Running Club, questions about winter running, or if you have an injury or pain that is preventing you from running, contact cindy@bodyfitphysicaltherapy.com today!