When the sky turns grey and the temperature starts to drop, runners might be inclined to head to the local gym instead of popping outside for a quick run. However, recent studies have shown that running in cold weather can actually be beneficial. From helping to reduce heat stress when running to assisting with burning off seasonal weight gain, running during the cold wintery months is a smart choice. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning on going for a run out in the cold.

winter running

Ideal Running Conditions: Hot or Cold?

First off, it’s important to remember that when it comes to optimal running conditions, the human body tends to perform better when it’s a bit chilly out. Here’s why:

When running in hot or humid weather, your body works hard to regulate its temperature and keep you from overheating – in effect, causing you to sweat more than you would normally. Your muscles will work harder and you’ll have to keep drinking more water to keep running efficiently. In short, “heat stress” can be very taxing for runners.

Cooler weather, on the other hand, is preferable, as your body has to do less to avoid overheating, which means you’ll have more energy to run further and faster. If you choose to run during extreme cold (i.e. snowy conditions), however, your body will have to work quite hard to keep warm. But if you layer up with socks, sweaters, and a beanie your body should be able to regulate internal temperature fairly easily.

Interestingly, running in the cold can actually help you burn a great deal of calories. Your body will work hard to regulate your core temperature, causing you to burn additional calories. As long as you remember to dress warmly and set a good pace, your body won’t experience any undue temperature stress. According to Fitness Magazine, some studies have shown that exercising in the cold can help produce calorie-burning fat. There’s an assumption that all fat is bad, but that’s not true. There are different types of fat within the human body: white fat is generally unneeded, excess fat, and brown fat is actually a type of metabolic tissue that helps with the act of burning calories. Some studies have shown that exercising in colder temperatures can cause white fat to transition into valuable brown fat. How cool is that?

Additionally, colder weather can cause your heart to work a little harder to pump blood throughout your body. If you have heart problems, running in the cold can be difficult and it isn’t recommended. But if you exercise and run regularly, then the cold can serve as a workout for your heart, helping it to become stronger. Lastly, during the winter months, people have a tendency to stay indoors in order to avoid the cold – according to the Huffington Post, this can lead to lack of vitamin D (lack of exposure to the sun), seasonal weight gain, or even depression due to lack of exercise or stimulation. By running during the winter, you can help keep off the seasonal weight, get some vitamin D, and also keep your mind and body active.

Don’t Forget to Prepare for the Cold

While it’s completely fine to go for a run out in the cold, remember to dress warmly and appropriately. When exposed to varying temperatures, the body works hard to maintain a steady internal temperature. Not dressing warmly enough can cause undue stress to your body, and it might even lead to muscle-related injuries or a compromised immune system. So, before running outdoors, take it easy on your body’s internal thermometer – help it maintain a steady temperature by wearing quick-dry running pants or long-sleeved shirts and a running shell.

Also, before heading for a run, make sure to warm up with some quick exercises or by stretching – if you stretch properly, you’ll avoid potentially pulling a tensed-up muscle. When running during the winter, you might encounter ice, so do your best to run carefully, and tread lightly so as to avoid any precarious spots that might cause you to slip or injure yourself.