When Is It Too Cold to Run Outside?

How to avoid cold-related injuries while running

Here are the American College of Sports Medicine’s tips for reducing cold-related injuries while exercising:

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  • Cover your head, face, legs, feet, and hands. These areas are at greater risk for frostbite injury.
  • The risk for cold injury is higher when the conditions are wet (e.g., snow or rain).
  • Wear appropriate footwear to prevent slipping.
  • Adjust clothing and layers to help maintain warmth but prevent too much sweating.
  • Be aware of the wind speed. For example, if the air temperature is 30 °F (-1.1 °C) and the wind speed is 10 mph, then the actual temperature will be 21 °F (-6.1 °C). Here’s a calculator to help you figure out the wind chill.
  • Avoid exercise if possible when the air temperature falls below -8 °F (-27 °C). Tissue injury can occur in 30 minutes or less under these conditions.

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And here are more tips for making the most of your winter workout:

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Winter Running Shoes Should Have Traction

So what about your shoes? You will want something on your feet that will grip in the snow and keep your feet dry.

8. Duct-tape your shoes

Most regular running shoes have breathable uppers that keep your feet comfortable when you’re sweating—but vulnerable to wind, snow, and cold in the wintertime. For a cheap fix, cover them with duct tape to keep out the elements, Quinn recommends.

Running when it’s cold outside: a good or a bad idea?

Running in winter has its benefits and its drawbac

Running in winter has its benefits and its drawbacks. It’s possible to run daily when it’s freezing, it’s not that complicated. Okay, this is not the ideal season to go running but let me remind you that, to improve your running performances you have to be regular. It all depends on you.

Indeed, according to John Castellani (physiologist at the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine), low temperatures shouldn’t be an excuse for not practicing sports. As muscles and joints are more sensitive in winter, runners are apprehensive about practicing their activity at this period of the year. Just pay attention to the weather conditions but still go running that will do you good.

Winter running brings many good things, such as the reinforcement of your metabolism: indeed, you will be fit and feel good, since you spend a lot of energy every day. Thus, you will also avoid the famous winter weight gain (due to the inactivity implied by low temperatures and the usual laziness), because you burn a lot of calories when you run.

You will also be capable of facing the well-known winter blues. When you run, you release hormones like endorphin, which prevent you from sinking into that temporary uncomfortable mood. Moreover, according to a survey of the Environmental Science and Technology, people who are running in winter have more energy, are less depressed than the average, less prone to diseases and to winter chills and are full of energy. Nothing but positive results!

Traction Cleats for Running in Snow

Added traction can be achieved with adding a traction cleat, such as YakTrax, to your road runners. These devices just slip onto the shoe and can be added to any running shoe.

Some runners love these products, but I have seen some runners become frustrated with them falling off.

However, these can be a less expensive alternative to buying a pair of trail shoes and also allow you to run in a road shoe that perfectly fits your feet.

Keep in mind that road runners are designed to keep your feet cool and usually have perforations that let the cold wind in. If you wear road runners, you might want to consider a good thick winter sock or place some duct tape inside your shoe to block the wind

Homemade traction devices are not recommended

I have also heard of some runners screwing short hexagonal screws into the bottoms of their shoes for traction.  I don’t advise you try this unless you really know what you are doing. There are some guides for this floating around the internet. But the screws can poke into your feet and they can fall out.

10. Pick a race—or even a race-cation—to keep you motivated

Every runner knows it’s a heck of a lot easier to get out the door when you have a specific purpose—say, a 5K, 10K, or marathon—on your calendar and a training plan with workouts to prepare you for it.

Mayer’s company, Life Time Fitness, hosts Commitment Day 5Ks, a series of New Year’s Day races across the country to start your year off on the right foot, literally. Mayer herself is also running the Miami Marathon in February, which doubles as a warm-weather getaway and a way to stay focused in the cold days beforehand.

What Should Athletes Do When Its Really Cold Outside?

Here’s some practical advice and a set of guidelines you can utilize when the temperatures dip.

We know that the temperature limitation of -4 F (-20 C) used by the International Ski Federation is more about protecting athletes from frostbite and hypothermia, and is an important piece of guidance to follow for protecting our body’s external structures. Right now, research suggests that 5 F (-15 C) is a good minimum threshold for protecting the respiratory system from damage caused by competition and intense training in extreme cold, and one that I think we runners should follow.

There seems to be a slight decline in post-hard-exercise ventilatory function testing between 14 F (-10 C) and 5 F (-15 C), but not to the same extreme seen at temperatures below 5 F (-15 C). I would caution athletes who know cold-weather exercise provokes breathing changes for them, or if they develop post-exercise coughing, to exercise with caution at these temperatures.

Once temperatures fall below 5 F (-15 C), move exercise inside if possible. If that’s not possible, take action to protect your airway while running outdoors. First, keep outdoor exercise easy to allow more time for your lungs to warm and humidify the air (2). Basically, if you are running easily enough that you can breathe through your nose, that gives your lungs a little break.

Also, because we know that the main issue for our lungs is that cold air is dry air, we can also use different strategies to limit the drying out of our airway surfaces at these very cold temperatures. The first way to do this is to cover your mouth with a heat and moisture exchange device to pre-warm and humidify the air you are inhaling (3).

This can be as simple as a buff, and there are also masks like the AirTrim mask developed for the cross-country skiing market that are constructed to allow easier breathing and can be fitted with various filters. One other option is to utilize an indoor warmup of 15 to 20 minutes before training outside, which helps dilate the bronchioles and reduces the effects of cold air once you get out the door (2).

Sometimes exercising at a lower intensity is a good solution to avoid damaging your sensitive airway tissues when it’s very cold. Photo: Alex Potter

Watch your breath

After running a few miles in 0 degrees Fahrenheit last week, I’m now battling a brutal sore throat. (Apparently the cold air wicked away some of my precious moisture in my mucosal lining. Classic Meredith.) Be extra aware of mouth-breathing while running in cold, dry air. Wearing a mask helps, as does sucking on a cough drop in order to help you practice breathing through your nose.

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References

  1. Kennedy, M. D., & Faulhaber, M. (2018). Respiratory function and symptoms post cold air exercise in female high and low ventilation sport athletes. Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research, 10(1), 43. https:///10.4168/aair.2018.10.1.43
  2. Brown, M. 2020. Exercising in very cold weather could harm lungs over time, researcher lberta.ca. February 1st, 2022. https://lberta.ca/folio/2020/01/exercising-in-very-cold-weather-could-harm-lungs-over-time-researcher-cautions.html
  3. Gatterer, H.; Dünnwald, T.; Turner, R.; Csapo, R.; Schobersberger, W.; Burtscher, M.; Faulhaber, M.; Kennedy, M.D. Practicing Sport in Cold Environments: Practical Recommendations to Improve Sport Performance and Reduce Negative Health Outcomes. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18, 9700. https:///10.3390/ijerph18189700
  4. Kippelen, P., Fitch, K., Anderson, S., Bougault, V., Boulet, L., Rundell, K., Malcolm, S., & Mckenzie, D. (2012). Respiratory health of elite athletes- preventing airway injury: A critical review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 471-476.
  5. Sheel, A., Macnutt, M., & Querido, J. (2010). The pulmonary system during exercise in hypoxia and the cold. Experimental Physiology, 422-430.

Related articles:

  1. Running and the Common Cold How to adapt your run training when you have a cold….
  2. The Basics of Running Safely in Cold Weather How to run safely in cold weather….
  3. Take My Breath Away: Non-Asthma Breathing Problems In Endurance Running A look at the non-asthma breathing problems that occur during endurance running….

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