Exercising in winter

As the days draw in and temperatures drop, you may be tempted to hang up your exercise gear and hibernate.

Don't! Stay active throughout autumn and winter to beat those seasonal blues and feel on top of the world.

If you're short on ideas for getting active, try our popular Couch to 5K running plan and Strength and Flex exercise plan, which are ideal for beginners. 

And if you're not keen on exercising outdoors, check out our 10-minute home exercise routines and our gym-free workout sheets.

If you're looking for something less energetic, these strength, balance, flexibility and sitting exercises are ideal if you want to improve your health, lift your mood and remain independent.

Don't worry if you've not done much for a while, these exercises are easy, gentle to follow and can also be done indoors.

More energy

Regular exercise will make you feel more energetic, which should make it a little easier to get out of your warm bed on cold, dark mornings.

Your body’s defences will also benefit. There is some limited research suggesting that moderate exercise can strengthen the immune system, thereby reducing the risk of coughs and colds. However, more research is needed in this area.

If the shorter days are affecting your mood, being active can improve your sense of wellbeing.

You may be tempted to eat more during the colder months. Exercising will help you manage your weight better and keep your body in shape.

Get tips on eating a healthy balanced diet and taking regular exercise to maintain a healthy body weight.

Warm up

If you’re starting a new exercise regime, don’t overdo it. Slowly build the amount of exercise you do. If you can't manage 30 minutes in one go, break it up into 10-minute chunks.

Always warm-up for up to 10 minutes before you start. Walk at a brisk pace, or jog in order to warm your muscles.

Make sure you’re warm if you’re going outside. Wear several layers to keep the heat in. A lot of heat escapes through your head, so consider wearing a hat as well.

Stay safe

If you're exercising after dark, keep to well-lit areas and wear bright and reflective clothing. Ideally, exercise with a friend, but always tell someone where you’re going.

Avoid listening to music while running outdoors. Not hearing what’s going on around you can make you vulnerable.

If rain or ice is making exercise dangerous, do it another day. The weather might be better tomorrow, but an injury could take weeks to heal.

If you have a cold

Colds are more common in winter, but you don’t necessarily have to stop exercising if you’re feeling under the weather. According to Dr Keith Hopcroft, a GP from Basildon in Essex, use common sense and listen to your body.

“If your symptoms are not severe and you generally feel OK, then you can exercise. If you feel absolutely rotten, then it’s best not to go.”

However, it’s important not to exercise if you have a fever. A fever is when your body’s temperature is 38°C (100.4°F) or above and is rarely a symptom of a cold. “If you exercise with a fever,” says Dr Hopcroft, “it’ll make you feel worse. In very rare cases, exercising with a fever can lead to the virus affecting your heart, which can be dangerous.”

If you have asthma, take extra care when exercising in winter as cold air can trigger symptoms. Dr Hopcroft recommends using your inhaler before you exercise and taking it with you during your activity.

Something you enjoy

Choose an activity that you enjoy. Now might be the time to try something new that you can do indoors, such as:

Use our directory to find activities near you.

You don’t even have to stop doing outdoor activities.

If you enjoy running, don't let cold weather put you off. Get tips on running outdoors in winter.

You could take a long walk at the weekend or go for a bike ride. Just wrap up warm and be careful if it’s wet or icy. Get tips on walking for health.

If being outside when it's windy, raining or snowing doesn’t appeal, rent a fitness video and try doing some exercise at home.

Page last reviewed: 22/12/2014

Next review due: 22/12/2016


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The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

sheemas said on 18 June 2013

good content..its helpful thanks ..

as stated above:
6-minute warm-up
10-minute home cardio workout
10-minute home toning workout
10-minute legs, bums and tums home workout
Stretching after exercising

but how many calories will it burn per day?

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Steven Shukor said on 23 December 2010

Hi ClareBur,

Thanks for your comment. We've added some new information on returning to exercise after a winter-related illness.

Steven Shukor, Live Well editor

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ClareBur said on 07 November 2010

On the subject of the immune system and "regular exercise ...killing off ...bugs and viruses", please could you also add something to this section on returning to exercise after a winter illness (e.g. bad cold or flu) - should you wait until you're feeling 100% again or can you exercise sooner than that? What are the risks and benefits of exercising when your body is getting over fighting an infection? Does it depend on the nature/intensity of the exercise (e.g. gentle swimming versus running)? Thank you

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Steven Shukor said on 10 March 2010

Thank you for your comment. We are in the process of re-examining the evidence behind this statement.

Steven Shukor, Live Well editor

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David Colquhoun said on 27 December 2009

I was quite surprised to see the expression "boosts your immune system," on this page. Of course the expression is very common on the pages of every supplement huckster and quack, but I wasn't aware that it had any well-defined scientific meaning.

Could you please explain exactly what you mean when you say "boosts your immune system," and provide the evidence that it is a real phenomenon.

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Media last reviewed: 19/07/2014

Next review due: 19/07/2016