Why You Should Run Outdoors This Winter - And How to Enjoy It

Just because it's winter doesn't mean you should quit your running routine. (Photo: dotshock/Shutterstock.com)

If you have a regular running practice, whether it's formalized with app-tracking software, or a more casual commitment to run four days a week, you might have taken it inside in recent weeks, especially if you live in the chillier part of the Northern Hemisphere.

It's been cold outside, and many of us who know we get a better of a workout outside still shy away from hitting the pavement (or even better, the trail) when it cools down. Here's why you should stick with your outside runs, even if it's snowing.

1. It fights Seasonal Affective Disorder

Tom Holland, author of "The Marathon Method" told Shape magazine, "When the days get shorter and the temperature plummets, many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Running helps release powerful hormones that help combat depression, increasing positive mood states during the cold weather months." Other studies have shown that those who exercise outside in the winter — whether they suffer from SAD or not — experience a greater sense of well-being and overall better moods.

2. Fresh air is harder to come by in the winter

As I wrote a few days ago, indoor air is pretty much always less healthy that outdoor. Spending time outside gives your lungs — and body — time to detox and breathe deeply, which is good for you. I find that it really seems to clear my mind, and I feel sharper overall when I exercise outdoors, and especially in natural areas (in my town I have a waterfront that makes up half my run and sometimes I take a short drive to trail-running paths).

3. There's more great gear than ever to keep you warm

Stop by any REI, Patagonia or EMS, or even better, your local outdoor sports store, and ask the knowledgeable salespeople there about what you'll need. In the last 20 years, and especially the last 10, outdoor gear has dropped weight while keeping you warmer, is more waterproof and windproof (while simultaneously becoming more breathable) and looks a lot more fabulous than it did in the past.

How to run safely in the cold

Layering up doesn't mean bulking up. Wicking undergarments are key, and you should layer most around your core. You will warm up more than you think, even on very cold days; the body generates quite a bit of heat when exercising.

Be sure to keep an eagle eye out for any ice patches on your path; taking it outside on a sunny day will make it easier to see any wintery obstructions.

Just like in other seasons, avoid running at night, but if you do, be sure to wear reflective clothing and/or a blinking light. Shorter days and drowsier drivers mean that winter can be a little more dangerous for road-runners (though less foliage helps a bit, and brighter colors will really stand out in the winter landscape of greys and browns).

Bring a hat for warm-up and cool down. This tiny piece of fabric will keep you warmer than any other layer.