hot bod

Actually, Working Out in the Cold Is the Best

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

“Hot Bod” is a weekly exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent oddities.

First, let me say that I think contrarians are super-annoying. But I am interested in people who act as if they have a secret relationship to some experience that seems totally remote and obscure and unappealing to me, like fly-fishing or weight lifting. I don’t typically harbor this type of lofty knowledge, except for one thing I do know: Moving quickly in cold weather is a scintillating life experience. Biking, running, or walking fast through the cold is fantastic. It has conviction! It feels purposeful, alert, resilient, nimble, brisk, vigorous, awake — once you get going — and you’re a warm, irrepressible bolt of electricity. The world is your cooling agent. 

To put a finer point on this icicle: Exercising outside in the winter is amazing; standing around is not. You need some pace. It needs to be a bit of a romp. First, cold weather feels like clarity, which is something I can’t really explain but insist on. Second, we’ve already got mandatory face warmers wrapped around our chins. Third, because we’re whipping up heat, the chill that we’re moving through will feel like a gift. It’s the strangest thing — cold is a deterrent that encourages. Weather becomes relief!

Are these the feverish rantings of a hypothermic angel on the razor’s edge of sanity, believing that the frosty windchill is a balmy island breeze? Yes and no. I’ll qualify that by “cold weather,” I mean like circa 35 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take a little. I understand this makes me a hopeless wimp in like … Winnipeg, but I can’t travel there or anywhere right now, and earning respect for my physical feats has never been my game. Also I follow the New England school of delusions — “There’s no bad weather, only bad gear” — and I always bundle appropriately. (Although I do love to see some bare gams on the first barely warm day of spring; there should be citywide celebrations devoted to the first exposed shins of every calendar year.)

Exercising quickly warms up the strange, soft animal of our bodies, so continuing to exercise — further and faster and further and faster — is a natural motivation when it’s chilly outside. In August, when you’re a million sweaty degrees on a run and questioning the whole purpose of ever moving, it’s actually most logical to stop in an air-conditioned corner store and buy a cold seltzer and drink it while staring at off-brand cereals until your face has returned to its regularly scheduled hue. But in the winter, it’s in my self-interest to warm myself up.

While these collective testaments may sound as if they’re sent from inside the bear-fur blanket in The Revenant, what is true for my feelings is also true for the human body’s physiology. When you’re exercising in chillier weather, your body doesn’t need to work as hard to maintain proper internal temperature or to pump blood. Heart rates are often lower while exercising during the cold. This all means your body can devote all of its energy to your sweat-free athletic performance.

Plus, the popular paths tend to be emptier during the chilly seasons. I love people and love being around people, but I still think fewer people is usually better. In northeastern winters, the world looks spectacular and absolute and skeletal, with no messy leaf coverage or distracting flowers. It’s minimalist, which is sometimes fashionable. Meanwhile, I’m a little live wire, frizzing my electric sparks around the bare city, cooking up the atmosphere a little.

I’m also way less prone to acquiring a rubicund sweat face as I bike through the Pretty People Park. Because of my vanity, this would probably be the only motivation I need. Exercising outside in the winter, I am like a gorgeous, matte-faced, stoic ice queen: poised, strong, bitchy, naturally dramatic, but with minimal visible effort, self-reliant and cool.

Actually, Working Out in the Cold Is the Best