This is it. This is the year you finally get in shape, shed those pounds or meet that fitness pledge you made at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31.
But do you have to build the new you in a hot, stuffy gym, cheek by jiggly jowl with a dozen other sweaty resolutionaries awaiting their turn on the elliptical machine?
No, you dont. A forgiving climate offers a variety of ways for you to adopt a fitness regimen outdoors this winter if, like some, thats 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 youll be just fine.
According to the National Safety Council, there is little danger to a properly clothed individual exercising outdoors at 20 degrees, even with a 30 mph wind.
So lets get you dressed and out the door.
But first ...
Have a plan. Were not going to explore exercise programs here; you can find ample advice online and in books, from coaches, instructors and clubs. But if its difficult to go from sedentary to active when the conditions are favorable, doing so when youre also contending with the elements will require a little more discipline.
If youre going to start a running or walking program, dont go out on the coldest day of the year. Begin when its 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 dont know where to start, says Robyn Gault, owner of Fleet Feet Sports in Gaithersburg, Md. They go out and try to run as far as they can, as fast they can, and they dont 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 youll 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 dont 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-sleeved and made of a synthetic material that wicks away sweat. Dont be tempted to save money here. Cheaply made base layers with raised seams that irritate your skin can be a nightmare if youre out for any length of time.
Many cyclists prefer a wool base layer, says Michael Esmonde, director of customer relations for CycleLife, an upscale bike shop in Washington. Wool sheds moisture but retains heat even better than synthetics, he says.
A mid-layer is typically thicker and often zips halfway down in case you need to cool off a bit. Cyclists will often wear jerseys and arm warmers instead of long-sleeve mid-layers, according to Esmonde.
Your outer layer is critical for two reasons: It must block the wind and make you visible to drivers. In all likelihood, youll be exercising early in the morning or after work, when temperatures are lowest and visibility poorest.
Typically, when you get cold, you get cold because its windy, Gault says.
That goes double for cyclists, whose gloves, shoes and cycling pants require extra wind-stopping material. Cycling shoes can be covered by booties. Wool socks are better than synthetics because, again, they retain heat, Esmonde says.
If its stupid cold out, Ill wear a balaclava head covering, which exposes only the eyes, says Esmonde, who rides his bike eight miles to work regardless of temperature and conditions.
Outer shells for runners come in bright colors with reflective tabs.
Safety is reflectivity, Gault says.
Other options: A reflective vest or blinking lights. Cyclists typically mount a blinking red light on the rear of their helmets and a blinking white one on the front.
It almost goes without saying, but hats and gloves are essential. Easily removed if you become too warm, they are critical to retaining heat, Matthews says.
Dont forget your sunblock just because its winter, and load up on the lip balm. You will undoubtedly chafe in other areas, and there are several products to choose from, including the ever-popular Bodyglide, a protective skin balm applied before working out.
It may be 30 degrees outside, but youll still be sweating. That means you have to hydrate. ACE guidelines call for you to drink 17 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours before you head out, and to sip seven to 10 ounces every 15 minutes if youre doing a moderately intense workout.