Whether you’re training for a marathon or just looking to log some exercise, you might want to go for a run. There’s just one problem: It’s cold outside.

Running outside in the winter presents plenty of health benefits, from giving your heart a good workout to boosting your mood. But it also carries some risk, especially if you’re not prepared.

The good thing is that there are ways you can prepare your body to limit your risk and stay healthy. Find out how you can reduce your risk for injury when running outdoors in the cold.

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Cold-Weather Running Risks

It’s important to know the risks before you head out for a run. Outdoor exercise in cold weather carries the risk of both injury and illness.

  • Falls: Cold temperatures bring the potential for ice- or snow-covered surfaces. This could make footing more difficult, increasing your risk to fall and suffer an injury. A study in the journal Injury reported ankle fractures are more commonly diagnosed in the winter months. One potential reason for that is icy conditions.
  • Musculoskeletal injuries: Many runners are familiar with common aches and pains, along with more significant sprains and strains. You may be more at risk of those injuries in cold weather because it takes your muscles longer to warm up in lower temperatures.
  • Heart attack/stroke: According to the American Heart Association, cold temperatures can constrict your arteries and increase your blood pressure. This increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. Keep this in mind, especially if you already suffer from high blood pressure or another cardiovascular condition.
  • Asthma: Cold, dry air can constrict your airways, making it harder to breathe. If you have asthma or another lung/breathing condition, it’s important to take precautions.
  • Illnesses: Exposing yourself to the elements also could put you at risk for seasonal illnesses. More than half of the runners participating in a study in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy reported illness symptoms while training for a half or full marathon during the winter.

Preventing Cold-Weather Running Injuries

While there are risks to running in cold weather, the right preparation can help you stay injury-free while getting your workout in.

  • Consider the conditions. Is it just cold outside, or is there snow and ice on the ground? Some running surfaces can be even trickier to navigate if footing is an issue. Make sure you know what you’re up against before you leave.
  • Dress appropriately. Depending on the weather conditions, you might need to wear extra layers or running shoes with extra traction. Check out our guide for dressing to run in the cold.
  • Get in a proper warmup: Given the added risk to your muscles and joints, you shouldn’t be starting your run cold. A warmup of about 10 minutes can help you avoid injuries. Make sure to warm up your muscles with a brisk walk or slow jog and then gently stretch before you take those first steps.
  • Mind your footing. If you’re running on slippery surfaces, take care to avoid any slips that could lead to nasty falls. Shorter strides can help you keep your feet.
  • Stay hydrated. You may not think about hydration when it’s cold outside, but it’s still very important. If you’re going on a longer run, bring a drink with you or take a break or two to stay hydrated.
  • Listen to your body. It might be difficult to cut a run short, but it’s the right thing to do if you’re feeling pain. A slight change in your running plans is better than an injury that could set you back for an extended period of time.
  • Finish strong. Don’t forget about doing a quick cool-down at the end of your run. And if you’re running somewhere away from home, consider bringing a change of clothes so you have something warm and dry to wear during your drive home.

At UPMC Sports Medicine, our goal is to keep everyone on top of their game to participate in their chosen sport. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a beginner, we have services to help you. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 1-855-937-7678 or visit us online.

American Heart Association, Use These Tips for Getting Healthy — and Staying Healthy — During the Cold Winter Months. Link

Asthma & Allergy Network, Cold Air and Asthma = Winter Asthma. Link

Thierry P.C. Franke, PT, MSc, Frank J.G. Backx, MD, PhD, Bionka M.A. Huisstede, PT, PhD, Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, Running Themselves Into the Ground? Incidence, Prevalence, and Impact of Injury and Illness in Runners Preparing for a Half or Full Marathon. Link

N. Morris, M.E. Lovell, Injury, Demographics of 3929 Ankle Injuries, Seasonal Variation in Diagnosis and More Fractures Are Diagnosed in Winter. Link

REI, Cold Weather Running Tips. Link

About Sports Medicine

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