Confessions of a Winter Wimp: How Layering Changed My Life

By Marilynn Preston

February 19, 2019 5 min read

When it comes to exercising in cold weather, are you a winter wimp?

I'm not talking brutal polar vortex weather. I just mean enough cold to give you an excuse to stay indoors with the taco chips instead of doing some outdoor activity that melts your stress, boosts your energy and — most especially in these high-tech times — calms your distracted and overactive mind.

Fitness is a year-round pursuit, and the more winter days you go out and pursue it — running, walking, biking, skating, skiing, snowshoeing — the happier and healthier you'll be. Cold-weather workouts can be inspiring, invigorating, even revelatory, but you have to dress correctly and keep a few basic rules in mind:

YOUR LUNGS WON'T FREEZE. Working out in cold weather does have an element of risk (from overexposure, mostly), but freezing your lungs is not one of them. So relax and breathe deeply. The more tense you are — shoulders hunched, chest concave — the colder you'll feel. Another way to make yourself more comfortable is to wear a face mask or a scarf over your face. The warmer your breath the warmer your body.

DRESS IN LAYERS. This is the key to comfort when you're playing outside. No matter your sport or level of performance, you'll feel better and work more efficiently if you wear several light layers instead of one or two big, bulky ones. Layering traps the air and keeps it warm. Plus, if you get too hot, you can peel one off.

THINK THREE. A harmonious trio, that's all you need. Your first layer — the one closest to your skin — is the most important. Read the labels and invest in cold-weather tights and tops that are made of a high-tech fiber that wicks sweat off your skin and keeps you dry. Cotton isn't a good choice next to your skin, not even thermal cotton, because once it's wet, it stays wet, and you'll wind up feeling cold and miserable.

Your second layer depends on the weather and your personal preference. If it's especially cold, I like to add a wool turtleneck or a fleecy pullover. If I'm cross-country skiing, I'll wear a down vest.

For your top layer, choose a lightweight jacket that is windproof and water-resistant — something made of a technical material that breathes, such as Gore-Tex. Don't wear a heavy jacket as your top layer. You'll overheat too quickly. A 100 percent nylon jacket is not ideal because it doesn't breathe or allow your sweat to evaporate.

PACK A PACK. When you heat up or the temperature changes, you'll want to peel down. So think ahead and wear a fanny pack or daypack to carry what you no longer need. Keep water and a snack in the pack, too. When you're active, you need to keep drinking water, winter or summer. And a good healthful snack — such as trail mix or a high-quality protein bar — will keep your energy flowing.

WEAR GLOVES, HATS, SOCKS. Wear good gloves to keep your hands and fingers comfy, and for added warmth, use liners or wear mittens. A hat is crucial because without one, at least 50 percent of your body heat goes right out the top. And don't forget warm socks made with wool or a technical fiber that wicks away moisture. Again, cotton socks won't do the job because once they're wet, they stay wet, and nothing can ruin a cold-weather workout faster than frozen toes.

SKIN CARE COUNTS. Don't let your healthy exposure to cold weather chap your lips and dry out your skin. Use safe, nontoxic products (not necessarily expensive ones) to keep your lips moist and your skin lubricated. To protect your eyes and the thin skin around them, wear sunglasses or goggles.

ALTER YOUR ATTITUDE. I've saved my best tip for last. Don't resent cold weather or think of it as the enemy. It's just weather. Embrace it. The less mental energy you spend fearing and fighting cold weather the more you'll open up to the wonders of winter workouts.

I used to be one of those winter wimps, but now I love to frolic in the cold. I owe that to dressing in layers and thinking warm thoughts.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.


"The sun did not shine

It was too wet to play.

So we sat in the house

All that cold, cold, wet day." — Dr. Seuss

Marilynn Preston is the author of "Energy Express," America's longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new Amazon best-seller, "All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being," is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. Visit Creators Publishing at to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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