No, you don’t. Our forgiving mid-Atlantic climate offers a variety of ways for you to adopt a fitness regimen outdoors this winter if, like some, that’s where you prefer to be. All it requires is outfitting yourself appropriately — which will cost you an initial cash outlay — and some common-sense planning. Pay attention to warmth, comfort, safety and injury prevention and you’ll be just fine.
According to the National Safety Council, there is little danger to a properly clothed individual exercising outdoors at 20 degrees Fahrenheit, even with a 30 mph wind. Normal temperatures for the Washington region range from 28 to 43 degrees in January and between 30 and 47 degrees in February, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
So let’s get you dressed and out the door.
But first . . .
Have a plan. We’re not going to explore exercise programs here; you can find ample advice online and in books, from coaches, instructors and clubs. But if it’s difficult to go from sedentary to active when the conditions are favorable, doing so when you’re also contending with the elements will require a little more discipline.
If you’re going to start a running or walking program, don’t go out on the coldest day of the year. Begin when it’s at least 30 or 35 degrees. If you want to jump on a bicycle, a 40-degree day without wind is probably the bottom line.
And start slowly.
Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, recommends remembering the acronym SMART: Your program should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timebound.
“Most people fail with running because they don’t know where to start,” says Robyn Gault, owner of Fleet Feet Sports in Gaithersburg. “They go out and try to run as far as they can, as fast they can, and they don’t get very far.”
Layer, layer, layer
Your mom knew what she was talking about when she told you to dress in layers in the winter. Not only do layers keep you warm, but you can shed one if the temperature increases. When exercising under normal winter conditions, you need three: a quick-drying base layer that will keep moisture away from your skin, a second to provide warmth, and a light third layer to block the wind and ensure that you’ll be seen.
Cotton is verboten. It does a poor job of trapping warmth but an excellent job of retaining moisture, which means it will keep you cold and miserable. You don’t want a stitch of cotton in your outdoor winter fitness wardrobe. That includes socks, underwear and sports bras.
For most activities, your base layer should be long-sleeve and made of a synthetic material that wicks away sweat. Don’t be tempted to save money here. Cheaply made base layers with raised seams that irritate your skin can be a nightmare if you’re out for any length of time.