Can Running Outside in the Cold Make You Sick?

I run. I run outside. I only run outside. No treadmills for me. I’ve never liked them, and I avoid them at all cost. Weather is not a deterrent for me when it comes to running. Rain? No problem. Heat? I can handle that. Snow? It’s actually kind of fun. Cold? ​Invigorating.

The recent polar vortex has brought bitterly cold temperatures and wind chills to most of America. Air temperatures were in the single digits several days this week and schools were cancelled thanks to the wind making it feel like it was several degrees below zero.

I ventured out one morning during this cold snap and went for a run. According to my weather app, it “felt like” negative 8 degrees Fahrenheit when I left the house at 5am. There was even a dusting a snow on the ground.

I threw on my toboggan, gloves and Under Armor Coldgear and headed out. I’ve learned that if I can keep my head and hands warm, I’m pretty comfortable running in the cold, no matter how low the temp gets. My legs are never cold, and I always wear shorts. I don’t even own a pair of running pants!

​​​I get a lot of strange reactions when people find out that I run outside in shorts in the winter. But I know my body and I know how I feel. I’m not for a minute suggesting that everyone should run outside in the cold. If you have tried it and don’t like it, then don’t do it. Move your workout indoors.

The big question is, am I doing any harm by exposing myself to the elements?

We’ve all heard that if you go outside in the cold without adequate clothing, you will “get sick”. But is this true? This line of thinking never made sense to me as colds are caused by viruses and not by the weather. However, recent research has demonstrated that while viruses trigger your symptoms, cold weather ​may have an impact on whether you "catch" a cold.

The common cold is transmitted though contact with a virus. Maybe you touched a doorknob or shopping cart that had the virus on it. If you live in my house, it’s likely one of my children sneezed in your face! Regardless of how you get it, once inside, the virus attaches itself to the lining of your throat or nose, triggering your body's immune system to send your white blood cells in to battle. Your body is using resources to fight the virus, which is what makes you feel tired and generally miserable.

As you know, some people get more colds than others. You may even live or work closely with someone and one of you gets a cold and the other does not. There are several factors that increase your potential risk for a cold, including age, immune system, exposure and climate.

​But I wanted to find out if the cold weather can increase your risk of getting a cold. There’s lots of research out there, but the information that I found most interesting was the fact that the cold virus is spread more easily during cold weather months because people spend hours indoors, placing you in close proximity to those who are ill. It’s not that being out in the cold makes you sick, it’s that you are usually inside more.

Through my work as a heating and air conditioning design Engineer, I’ve learned that humidity plays a big role in how viruses are spread. Dry air extends the life of those nasty little airborne droplets from a sneeze. Air both inside and outside contains significantly less moisture than in the summer months. In addition to this, the dry air in the cold months often dries out your mucous membranes, making the symptoms of a cold much worse than they would be in warmer weather.

I don't get sick from runnining outside for lots of reasons, but I also do things that make me less susceptible to catching a cold. In the winter months, I supplement with Vitamins C, D and Magnesium. They ​help keep my immune system strong and may help prevent a cold. I get plenty of sleep. I drink Apple Cider Vinegar to reduce the acidity in ​my body, which helps prevent the growth of viruses. Eating real food and avoiding processed foods gives my body the necessary tools to fight a viral infection.

I just don’t believe that cold weather causes you to get sick. While it’s important to protect against extreme temperatures for other reasons, they’re not the cause of illness. So, do things to make your immune system strong and then go ahead and run in the cold. In my opinion, the benefits of getting some fresh air far outweigh the risks!

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Wishing you optimal health and peak performance,

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One Response to “Can Running Outside in the Cold Make You Sick?”

  1. Gray Gladys October 12, 2020 at 5:29 AM #

    Many runners find that running with a head cold actually makes them feel better at least temporarily. Though it s not an exact science, running can help with some cold symptoms because exercise releases adrenaline also called epinephrine, which is a natural decongestant. Running may decrease some of the congestion in the nose and sinuses, and you will still feel that natural endorphin high when you re finished, Carter says.

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