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Exercising in the cold weather - how to stay active as it gets colder

This summer saw plenty of hot days in Dorset, meaning exercise regimes possibly fell by the wayside in exchange for BBQs, al fresco wining and dining, and lazy weekends doing very little due to the excessive heat.
Now the weather has cooled down considerably and the nights are drawing in, you may find relaxing on a cosy sofa in front of the TV a far more attractive prospect than heading out for a run in the rain. Autumn, however, is actually a great time to get back into a routine so don’t let those chilly mornings or wet evenings put you off. In this article, we will look at how to get active for autumn and explore some cold weather exercise tips.

woman walking on green grass in cold weather

How to stay safe when exercising in cold weather

Staying safe while exercising at this time of year is very important. Visibility starts to become an issue and while it isn’t usual to experience weather extremes during the autumn, the season can still throw everything at us, from mild and sunny days to howling gales and sharp frosts. Therefore, it is essential to ensure you wear the right clothing, particularly when it’s cold.

What to wear

Your clothing and footwear play an important role in keeping you safe. Below we’ve listed what kit you might need before setting out.

  • Layers - Layers act as an insulator to keep your body warm and protect you from the elements. The first layer (known as the base layer) is the one you wear closest to your skin. This should be snug fitting and of a light synthetic material. Cotton should be avoided as it stays wet for longer, drawing heat away from you. One of the quickest ways to lose body heat is to get wet which not only feels unpleasant, but can also increase the risk of hypothermia. The mid layer provides insulation and should be a looser fit and thicker material such as wool or fleece for extra chilly days, while your outer layer should act as protection from particularly wild weather and be tough enough to withstand tears and abrasions. The layers should be easily removable in accordance to the weather. You will also need to consider wearing long trousers and sleeves, hats and gloves to protect your extremities in very cold weather.

  • The right footwear - Ensuring your feet are warm and dry is very important when exercising outdoors. Trainers, walking boots or running shoes should be water-resistant, breathable and have good traction to avoid slipping on icy or muddy patches.

During your session

Now that you’ve taken that all-important step of leaving the sofa and are now out in the fresh air, you need to ensure you don’t put your health or personal safety at risk. Which is why you should take the following into consideration:

  • Visibility - As the days are starting to get shorter, opportunities to exercise during daylight hours decreases, leaving us with little option but to head out while it’s dark. Poor visibility makes it harder for other people or vehicles to see you, so whether you’re running, walking or cycling, be sure to wear bright reflective clothing. This is also important on dull or foggy days, or when there is heavy rain.
  • Exercise with friends - Exercising with others is a great way to stay motivated and will also help to keep you safe. If you do prefer to go it alone, be sure to stick to well-lit, populated areas. Consider ditching the headphones or earbuds - wearing these could mean you don’t hear vehicles or people approaching behind you. It is important to be aware of your surroundings at all times.
  • Choose the right place - Avoid areas where there are clear trip or slip hazards such as in fields, woods or along river banks. While these may be scenic, you are more at risk of injury, particularly when there is poor visibility.
  • Stay hydrated - Make sure you take a water bottle with you. Even in cold weather it is still possible to become dehydrated. For longer walks and hikes, it is also advisable to pack some energy bars and snacks.

Types of exercise you can do

person swimming

Even in cold weather, there are still plenty of different exercises you can do to help you stay active. Whether you’re someone who works out daily, or someone who enjoys a gentler pace, we can help find the right activity for you.

Walking

We may be a little biassed, but Dorset in the autumn is a thing of beauty. The landscape transforms into a kaleidoscope of colours and who can resist the sound of crunching leaves underfoot on woodland walks? This is why we consider walking to be one of the best activities you can do to stay active in autumn. According to the NHS, a daily 10 minute walk can count towards your recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise. Our Accessible Walks in Dorset article can help you choose the perfect walking trail for you.

Alternatively, you might wish to join a walking group to make it a more social activity. You can use our LiveWell Finder tool to help find walking groups in your area.

Cycling

Now is the perfect time to head out on two wheels along one of Dorset’s many cycling trails. According to the NHS, cycling can reduce the risk of serious illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. It is also a great mood booster and can help improve mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Being a low-impact exercise means it's gentler on your joints compared to high-impact exercises such as running.

As well as the health benefits, cycling with friends or family can be a fantastic bonding experience. You can find out more about this in our article Cycling for Families

Running

Running outdoors in autumn is ideal as you don’t have to worry about avoiding the hot midday sun or getting caught in a snowstorm. You do still need to be aware of your environment, especially if running through woodland or rural areas where there are plenty of slip and trip hazards. Make sure you have the right amount of layers and don’t forget to take a water bottle with you. If you’re not used to running and find it a daunting prospect, why not give the free NHS Couch to 5K app a try? It’s designed specifically for those who have done little or no running and, with guided support from a coach of your choice, will help get you off the couch and running five kilometres in just nine weeks!

Swimming

For the more adventurous among you, autumn is a great time for wild/open water swimming. This activity has grown in popularity in recent years and the health benefits are said to include a boost to the immune system, better sleep and improved mood. If this is a little too far out of your comfort zone, a dip of just your feet and legs in cold water has multiple benefits. Alternatively, if you like your water a bit warmer, a visit to your local indoor swimming pool can be just as refreshing.

Hiking

If you would like to try something a little more challenging than walking during the autumn months, then hiking is definitely for you. We’re spoilt for choice in Dorset for hiking trails - one of the best in our opinion has to be along the expansive Dorset coastline where you can take in sights such as Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove along the way. Always make sure you have suitable footwear for hiking, especially along uneven or rough terrain.

Further inspiration

We hope this article has inspired you to get out and about during these colder months. If you would like to find out more about how LiveWell Dorset can help you stay active, why not register or talk to us today. Our team of advisors and coaches are here to help you get active and achieve your goals. We've supported more than 30,000 people in Dorset to date. Read about some of those success stories and see if they inspire you to get active for autumn.

Georgina

"In January 2019, I was five stone heavier. Now, with the weight loss, parkrun and netball, my anxiety has improved tenfold."

View full story

How does this work?

The tailored approach LiveWell Dorset uses to come up with solutions to the things that are stopping us achieving our goals, is based upon work done by University College London developing the COM-B model of behaviour change. In this model, all behaviour is influenced by understanding a person’s capability to change, their opportunity to change and their motivation to change. By understanding which of these is the biggest barrier to change, we can tailor support accordingly. This model of behaviour change is at the centre of the support we offer, online and in person.

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