How Cold Is Too Cold To Run Outside? Tips to Stay Warm on Winter Runs

How Cold Is Too Cold To Run?

Running in cold, wintery weather can either be an energizing experience or a bracing and unpleasant event, depending on how you feel about colder climates.

Ok, let’s take a look at how cold is too cold to run outside!

Some runners love being outside when it’s bitterly cold, so they go out and make the most of the winter weather by getting a good workout in. Other people prefer the cozy warmth of the gym during this season. 

Regardless of whether you like to run indoors or outdoors, there are situations in which you may be safer running on a treadmill or an indoor track rather than at your local park.

Running in the cold comes with its fair share of benefits and drawbacks that you need to think about before heading out. 

In this article, we’ll tell you all about the benefits and drawbacks of running when the temperature is on the cooler side, as well as tell you when the experts say that it’s too cold to go for an outdoor run. 

When Is It Too Cold to Run Outside?

You may be thinking that it doesn’t matter how cold it is outside because exercise like running is sure to warm you up right? Wrong! 

Turns out there is such a thing as “too cold”.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), they advise against exercising outside when the temperature reaches negative 18 degrees, as this is the point at which the risk of frostbite is at its highest.

At -18, no amount of running will be able to warm you up, and unless you’re wrapped up in thermal layers, there’s nothing you’ll be able to do to stave off the cold. 

Still, with chilled weather, there’s a sweet spot in which you may experience many health benefits when exercising outside. 

Benefits Of Cold Weather 

As a kid, you probably heard your mom shout that “you’ll get sick in the cold!” as you ran out the front door without a coat. But recently some studies have shown that the opposite might be true. 

Being outside and being active in the cold might make your immune system more resilient according to many sports science studies.

This is only true so long as you wear enough warm clothing though, so don’t be going for a winter run in shorts and a t-shirt. 

Boosting your immune system isn’t the only benefit that exercising in the cold has though, as it can also provide mental benefits.

Exercise endorphins can help to balance SAD (seasonal affective disorder) symptoms, which is a form of depression that often occurs during the winter months.


How Cold Is Too Cold To Run?

While the health benefits seem worth it, some people may not benefit from going on winter runs. If you have asthma or other lung diseases, breathing in that harsh air is not ideal.

Coldness is one of the biggest triggers of asthma attacks, but it can also cause dry coughs and chest tightness. 

If it’s too chilly and dry, your throat could become sore and start to burn because of the colder air. 

Cold Stress

Even before the first signs of frostbite appear, those who enjoy engaging in outdoor adventuring could be at risk for cold stress.

This happens when the body is unable to warm itself, which can lead to major illnesses and injuries related to the cold, irreversible damage to tissue, or even death in extreme cases.

If you have never really tried outdoor exercise in winter, then you might not know whether you’re susceptible to cold stress, which is an even bigger danger. 

Some people are more susceptible to cold stress, but no matter what, it’s always caused by the same 4 things: cold wind; freezing temperatures; icy water; and dampness. 

When the temperature outside is low, the body has to work harder to keep its internal temperature stable. When temperatures are in the 50s with rain and/or wind, cold stress can happen.

Cold stress can also be caused by temperatures below freezing when inadequate clothing is worn.

If you do experience cold stress there’s a few things you can try to relieve it, including:

  • Removing wet or cold clothing 
  • Drink hot drinks
  • Find a warm place to rest 
  • Wrap up in blankets 
  • Sit in front of a fireplace/heather

How To Protect Against Cold When Running

Each runner has their threshold for what temperature they feel to be too chilly to run in. When outside temperatures are brutal, exercise extreme caution regardless of your threshold.

Here are a few things you can do to make winter runs safer and more comfortable 

1. Dress Correctly 

Put on the appropriate clothing, and be sure to dress in layers so that your skin, especially your extremities, is protected from the cold. In chilled weather, gloves and socks are a must, and wearing 2 layers of these might be helpful.

Find a waterproof jacket that will keep you warm but more importantly dry. 

2. Think About Your Breathing

Be mindful of your breathing because exposure to cold air can cause your mucosal lining to losing critical moisture, which can contribute to breathing problems. 

When you’re running in the cold, dry air, you should make every effort to avoid mouth breathing. It is helpful to wear a mask, and it’s recommended that you breathe through your nose.

3. Warm Back Up

When you get in from a run, you may feel hot but your skin could be cool to the touch. One of the biggest mistakes that runners of all levels face is waiting too long to begin the warming-up process after their run.

This is a surefire way to suffer from cold stress. 

Take a steaming shower or change into some warm, dry clothes as soon as you finish your run outside in the chilly weather.

Get yourself a cup of coffee or another warm beverage, wrap up, and relax as your body warms back up to indoor temperatures. 

The Bottom Line 

While it’s up to you how cold is too cold for your run, any temperature under -18 is far too cold to go out in.

If you go out for a frosty run, wrap up warm and listen to your body if it needs a rest or to stop.

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