Two thirds of women exercise less during winter - 9 simple ways to stay on track

If you're feeling demotivated or unsafe.

A woman exercising during winter
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Did you know? Two-thirds of women exercise in cold weather less. It's not surprising, really - there's nothing harder than getting out of bed when it's still dark outside and practically baltic, and that's before you've even struggled into a pair of the best gym leggings and headed out for your session.

New research from Women in Sport and Equal Play, Sports Direct’s initiative to make sport fair and impartial for women, found that 61% of women - exercise in cold weather less.

This isn't just a case of lacking exercise motivation - far from it, with many women's concerns focusing on their own personal safety. 65% of those surveyed said they were too scared to travel home alone or be out alone in the dark.

2,000 women were surveyed in the UK and sadly, the data indicates that women are still experiencing way more barriers getting into sport than men.

So, you're not alone if in the past few weeks you've regularly been tempted to snooze your 7am alarm, or finished your working day keen to head out for a run, only to notice how dark it is and change your mind.

But it needn't become your new normal. Here, we've racked the brains of PT Dan Edwards for his top tips for exercising in cold weather - including investing in the right kit, staying safe during darker evenings, and buddying up to keep yourself accountable. Keep scrolling.

Make exercise in cold weather enjoyable: 9 tips from a PT

1. Invest in the right kit

Now, we're not saying you need to drop your entire Christmas budget on kit for yourself - although that would be nice, wouldn't it - rather, choose your kit wisely and invest in some long-lasting cold weather pieces that'll ensure you don't get ill when exercising in the cold.

As a health editor, I've tried 100's of items of kit in my time. The essentials are:

  • Warm and reflective workout leggings (read our edit of the best gym leggings, here). 
Base Pace High-Rise Running Tight 25" 

Base Pace High-Rise Running Tight 25" 

My favourite winter running leggings are the lululemon Base Pace tights, designed specifically for running and to keep you at the right temperature during your workouts. 

Own The Run leggings

Own The Run leggings

After a pair of workout leggings for winter with a lower price point? adidas are my go-to for affordable yet functional options.

  • A base layer
Nike Pacer crew top

Nike Pacer crew top

I trained for an ultra-marathon in this base layer and it's still good as new - so yep, I'm pretty attached to it. It's a good price point, too. 

  • A gilet or wind jacket
London Marathon Impact Run Heat Grid Vest

London Marathon Impact Run Heat Grid Vest

New Balance's gilets are one of my go-to's - they're sweat-wicking, breathable, and a good price point, too. 

  • Also worth investing in are a good pair of gloves, thick socks, and an ear warmer - Sweaty Betty's are unbeatable, in my opinion.

2. Aim for little and often, every day

While a five-mile run might seem so daunting you hide under the covers, a five-minute jog doesn't.

Try this trick I learned from a sports psychologist years ago: tell yourself you'll only workout for five minutes if that's really all your body fancies doing. Trust me when I say, you'll find the concept of a shorter run far easier to tackle, and once you're out, will likely run for as long as you'd initially planned, anyway.

Don't miss our running tips for beginners and guides to weight training, yoga, and mindful movement, while you're here.

3. Get your steps in

Sounds simple, actually isn't when it's frrrrreezing outside. Try this: set an alarm come lunch and head for a walk around the block when you hear it sound.

Edwards even advises things like getting off the train a stop earlier or parking your car as far away as possible from your work entrance. "Increase your NEAT - that's non-exercise activity thermogenesis - will help your body to burn twice as many calories as your workout," he explains. That way, if you do miss a session because you don't feel safe or it's cold, you won't feel so bad as you've already got some daily movement in.

Or, alternatively, check out the best UK hiking routes for a seriously pretty walk-slash-hike.

4. Set yourself performance goals instead of outcome goals

This one's a good one.

"Set yourself a goal and the rest will follow," shares Edwards. Like? Increasing your steps weekly, upping the weight you're lifting or training for a big event, like a marathon." This will motivate you more than saying you want to lose 20kg," he says.

5. Train with a mate

Whether it's a Zoom workout with a friend at lunchtime or an evening run with a family member, booking in a workout with someone else is bound to a. hold you accountable and b. keep you safe, as you're both in each other's company. "A little bit of competition keeps us accountable and healthy," explains the PT.

Motivation and safety? Check and check.

6. Pay attention to your body and your menstrual cycle

Feeling really bleurgh and can't work out why? Chances are, you're in one of your menstrual cycle phases which leaves you low energy. "Menstruation affects performance, so it's important to know what stage you're at," shares Edwards.

Don't worry - this is normal, so do take the time to listen to your body and rest accordingly. Tomorrow is a new day, and one missed workout doesn't ultimately matter.

7. Don't make unrealistic plans

If you had your work Christmas party the night before, is a 7.15am run really realistic? Short answer: no.

What might work is a short lunch jog. Being realistic with your time - and your commitments - will make sure you don't

8. Stick to well-lit streets after dark

A sad reality, but two small things you can do if you are going to run after dark: stick to well-lit streets, and wear high viz gear.

Several runners I know opt for head torches, too - practical as it means they can see the road ahead of them, and good for safety, as it means they can easily see and be seen.

9. Take your phone with you

And finally, if you are going to exercise in the colder months when it gets darker, earlier, do make sure to take your phone out with you, just in case of emergency. Plus, that way, you can listen to some tunes while you run (just opt for one earphone in, one earphone out, to listen out for passing cars, and so on).

How to exercise in cold weather never looked simpler.

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.