The Risks of Cold Weather Running

Cold temperatures and short days don't mean you have to take your run indoors. Follow these basic safety precautions and learn how to outsmart the risks of running in cold weather:

Frostbite: Even if you run in extremely cold weather, you don't have to worry about freezing your core body. Your chest, abdomen, back, buttocks and all the organs they protect will be fine. It's your arms, legs, hands, feet, ears, and nose that you have to watch out for. Men also need to pay particular attention to protecting their genitals. That's because your body automatically shifts circulation from your outer to your inner body to keep vital organs warm. That leaves your extremities out in the cold.

  • Dress in layers since you'll warm up once you're running.
  • Wear thermal underwear, a fleece layer, extra socks, mittens, gloves, a hat and scarf, and something to cover your ears.
  • Guys might want to purchase an insulated protective athletic supporter. Invest in moisture wicking athletic gear that pulls sweat away from your skin.
  • Avoid wearing cotton which will absorb sweat, rain, and snow. Cotton tends to stay wet and it increases your chances of developing hypothermia.

Breathing difficulties: While there's no risk that your lungs will freeze from running in cold weather, your airway might not be as resilient. Many people develop exercise or cold-weather-induced asthma during winter months when their airway constricts to prevent frigid air from entering the lungs.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf when you run. The moisture you exhale will be trapped in your scarf and will act as insulation to warm your next inhalation.
  • If you have trouble breathing, talk to your physician about getting a fast-acting rescue inhaler or if asthma is a chronic condition for you, use long-acting preventative medication.

Accidents: Slipping, falling, and getting hit by cars are more of a risk during winter runs than they are on bright, sunny, dry ones.

  • Make sure you have the right footwear. If you run in the snow, talk to a running shoe specialist about crampons and ice grips you can attach to your normal running shoe.
  • Running in the snow is more challenging than running on smooth, dry streets, so be prepared to put in more effort or dial back the distance.
  • Improve your ability to see by wearing glare-resistant sunglasses.
  • If it's dark outside, use a headlamp or flashlight to avoid tripping on objects in your path.
  • Improve your ability to be seen by wearing reflective clothing or a clip-on light.

Stay on well-traveled routes and make sure someone knows when you head out for your run and how long you'll be gone. And don't forget to apply sunscreen on exposed skin. It may be cold outside, but the sun still knows how to burn you.