A woman stretches outside.
If you’re ready to take your workout outdoors, keep in mind safety and preparations that are different than your pre-gym routine. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Outdoor exercise can be invigorating and a great morale booster. But always take a few simple steps to stay safe, no matter the season.

For starters, dress for the weather. Whether it’s cold or hot, that usually involves layering so you can start off warm and peel off layers as you heat up.

In warm weather, check out your local heat index. Listen for any ozone warning that it’s unsafe to be outdoors before you make the decision to exercise outside.

When first working out in the heat, start with short sessions, then gradually increase length and intensity as your body adapts. As the temperature heats up over summer months, adapt exercise accordingly.

Here are some hot weather essentials:

  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing to stay cooler—dark colors absorb heat.
  • Wear a light-colored wide-brimmed hat or cap to protect your head and face from the sun.
  • Carry extra water with you since dehydration can happen sooner than in cooler temperatures.


Our Take

The weather is warming and summer is around the corner. For some people, that means belatedly starting on their New Year’s fitness resolutions like losing weight, attempting to run a 5K or exercising daily.

Phillip Adler, ATC, manager of the Spectrum Health Sports Medicine program, shares some tips on how to avoid injuries.

  • Build your core strength for proper body mechanics
  • Improve your flexibility
  • Balance the strength of your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings and hips
  • Fuel your body with good nutrition
  • Stay hydrated
  • Wear appropriate footwear for good support
  • Listen to your body and pay special attention to joint pain

Matt Axtman, DO, a sports medicine specialist with Spectrum Health Medical Group, shares some thoughts on outdoor versus treadmill exercise.

When coming back from injury, treadmills are recommended because they have more cushioning and bounce, which leads to less impact on the body. But running outside tends to be more difficult because there are hills and the surface material is less forgiving.

If you choose to run on a treadmill, change the incline to 2 percent, which will approximate the difficulties of running outdoors.


Know the signs of heat illnesses:

  • Heat cramps—muscle contractions even without a rise in body temperature.
  • Exercise-associated collapse—lightheadedness or fainting immediately after exercising.
  • Heat exhaustion—rise in body temperature, nausea, headache, weakness and clammy skin.
  • Heatstroke—a life-threatening emergency with body temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

In cold weather, pay attention to the wind chill index—extremes can make exercising outdoors unsafe even if you dress warmly, with any exposed skin vulnerable to frostbite. When it’s cold but tolerable, pay extra attention to protecting your extremities—your head, hands and feet.

Cold weather essentials:

  • Wear a hat with earflaps to protect your head and a scarf to protect your neck.
  • Wear a thin pair of liners under heavier gloves or mittens. Take off the outer pair if your hands get sweaty.
  • Choose exercise shoes that are slightly larger than usual and wear thick thermal socks or double up on regular socks.
  • It’s possible to get sunburned in winter as well as in summer, especially during snow sports at high altitudes. So year-round, wear broad-spectrum sunscreen and a lip balm with an SPF 15 or higher. Protect your eyes from glare bouncing off sand, snow or ice with glasses or goggles.

Stay well hydrated regardless of the temperature. Drink water before, during and after your workout, even if you don’t feel thirsty. You can become dehydrated from sweating and other factors even in cold weather, yet may not notice it as quickly.

If you have a medical condition, check with your doctor before you head outdoors, especially in cold weather. You may need to take special precautions.