Cold Weather & Exercise

Effects of cold weather on the body

  • Exercising in a cold climate can place an increased demand on the heart.
  • When your body is exposed to cold temperatures, the arteries in the body (especially those closest to the skin) become smaller to encourage blood to be shifted toward the core. This may also cause an increase in blood pressure and can put you at risk for developing heart-related symptoms.
  • Heart-related symptoms may include chest discomfort/pain/tightness, irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations, shortness of breath, excessive fatigue or dizziness. Breathing in cold air may also trigger heart-related symptoms.

Preparing for cold weather

  • If you are planning on exercising outdoors during cooler temperatures, you can reduce your risk of developing heart-related symptoms by considering the following tips:
    • Check the weather forecast for the “feels like” temperature before you exercise outdoors. While everyone responds to temperature differently, we recommend moving your exercise indoors if the “feels like” temperature is -10° or cooler.
    • It may take your body a few weeks to adjust to cooler temperatures if the temperature drops quickly. If this is the case, reduce your speed or distance until you are feeling more comfortable with the outdoor temperature. If you have any symptoms in cold climates, it is safest to move your exercise indoors.  Speak to your Exercise Therapist or doctor if you experience symptoms with exercise.
    • Always warm up for a least 5 minutes at the beginning of an exercise session. View our safe warmup demonstration.
    • Dress in layers to maintain core temperature and prevent heat loss.
      • The clothing layer closest to your skin should be a moisture-wicking, or “dry-fit” material. For your first layer, consider fabrics such as polyester or nylon.
      • Your next layer, the middle layer, should provide warmth. Consider your second layer to be made from fabrics such as cotton, wool, or fleece.
      • Your third layer, the outer layer, should protect you from wind and water (snow, rain). Look for fabrics that are water and wind-proof.
    • To prevent heat loss, wear a hat, mitts, and scarf or balaclava. To keep your feet dry and warm, avoid cotton socks.
    • When exercising outdoors, avoid walking (or jogging) in heavy boots. When exercising, wear your running shoes and consider grippers for shoes if you are worried about slippery/icy surfaces.

Other considerations for cooler weather

  • Be aware of snow, ice, and wind. You may need to slow your pace to prevent falls and consider the layering tips discussed above.
  • Cloud coverage during the winter months can drop the temperature by 7°C. Instead of your regular route, you may want to consider walking shorter distances several times. This will allow you to get home quickly if the weather changes significantly while you are exercising.
  • Be aware of night dangers and low lighting. We recommend wearing reflective material and having a LED light on your outermost layer.
  • Use caution or find alternatives for snow clearing. You may want to consider asking someone in your household who is not living with a heart condition to help. Most townships or cities also offer free snow removal services for people living with health conditions. Call or visit your city’s website for more information.
  • If you are unable to arrange for someone else to clear your snow,  consider these safety tips when clearing snow:
    • Dress for exercise in cold weather, as discussed above.
    • Always warm-up for at least 5 minutes.
    • If you are prescribed nitroglycerin, carry it with you.
    • Push the snow with a scoop rather than lifting it with a shovel. If you must lift the snow, only scoop small amounts into your shovel, and lift slowly.
    • Take breaks from shoveling when you need to. Don’t allow yourself to become out of breath or experience any heart-related symptoms.
    • Keep up with the snowfall. Try to clear snow periodically throughout the storm when it is lighter and fluffier. The longer snow stays on the ground, the wetter and heavier it will be.

Indoor alternatives

Want more information?

  • Speak to your Exercise Therapist.
  • Visit your city’s office or website for information on options for snow clearing.
  • Call your local community centre(s) or mall(s) for information on indoor alternatives and hours of operation.