Cold Weather Running May Be Even Healthier

Dreary, chilly winter days might cause some year-round runners to think twice about their jog, but recent research suggests the benefits of cold weather running outweigh those of running in warmer conditions.

Specifically, cold weather can help runners burn more bad fat, lose more weight and feel healthier overall.

“Cold weather doesn’t have to force runners indoors and I encourage my patients to continue safely running outdoors,” said Dr. Joshua Blomgren, an assistant professor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “Exercise is medicine, even in the winter.”

Running in cold weather produces less heat stress on the body, which can make a winter jog easier than one in the summer, Blomgren said. Higher body temperatures are associated with increased exertion and strain on the heart, lungs and metabolism.

On the other hand, winter running can boost your metabolism at a time when cold temperatures are causing your average metabolism to slow down in an attempt to preserve fat, Blomgren explained.

Cold weather jogging tricks the body into stopping that slowdown, helping you maintain a healthy weight.

Scientific evidence also suggests that exercising in cold temperatures can help convert “bad” white fat to “good” brown fat, Blomgren said. White fat can cause inflammation and insulin resistance, while brown fat is metabolic tissue that helps burn calories.

Blomgren does issue some cautions to folks who choose to run in the cold, however:

  • Dress in appropriate layers

  • Wear sweat-wicking fabrics rather than cotton or wool

  • Wear a head covering

  • Drink lots of water before and after a run

  • Keep an eye out for hidden ice on running paths

  • Don a nose and mouth covering to warm the crisp air, making it easier to breathe

But even the hardiest cold weather runners should consider staying indoors during sub-zero cold waves, and always remain alert for any signs of frostbite while outside, Blomgren added.

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more about running in cold weather.

SOURCE: Rush University Medical Center, news release, Nov. 27, 2023