Friday 18 October 2019

Karl Henry: How to exercise safely during the winter months

Our fitness expert shares his tips on keeping fit in the colder and darker seasons

Karl Henry
Karl Henry
Getting out for a run is free and it's good for your body and mind
Karl Henry

Karl Henry

Exercising during winter can seem like an impossible task due to the short days, colder weather and dark evenings. We're waking up in the dark, leaving work in the dark and even exercising in the dark. But for the next six months, it's something we need to get used to.

Although it may not be as easy to exercise outdoors as it was during the summer months, there are options for you. So this week I thought I would bring you my ultimate guide to exercising on the roads in the winter, of regardless whether you are walking, running or cycling. By being conscious of what we wear, making ourselves more visible to other road users, we are increasing the chances of being safe. But also, the more people who practice safe and visible exercise during the dark evenings, the more others will do the same. So let's take a look.

Walking or running

If you read this column on a regular basis, you will know I am passionate about getting people to walk more. It's free, it's good for your lungs, your body, your mind and anyone can do it. Walk fast enough and you are really getting the benefits from it. Simple additions for the winter are walking shoes that have Gore-Tex or other waterproof system to keep your feet dry. Avoid cotton-based fabrics and also get a light rainproof and windproof jacket.

The key to staying warm when exercising is wearing several layers, not just one large jacket or fleece. Several light layers will always keep you warmer than one.

Finally, ensure that you are wearing a high-vis jacket or waistcoat. If you exercise on the road you simply MUST have one of these, as they are the easiest way to be visible to everyone else. Not wearing one is putting your life in danger and simply irresponsible. High-vis is the single most important winter garment that you will ever need.


I am a cyclist and mountain biker, as well as a runner. I love cycling. But I am frightened by the behaviour towards and neglect shown for cyclists in winter. We share the roads - cars, trucks and buses along with cyclists - and I fear for the safety of so many cyclists from what I see in Dublin on a regular basis. When it comes to winter, there are several things that every cyclist must have:

* Lights on the front of your bike

* Lights on the back of your bike

* Rain jacket

* High-vis jacket

* Helmet

I know that the helmet debate is one that angers so many on either side. I can only talk from experience. I have come off my bike three times, once going fast on a road bike, once mountain biking and once commuting. All three times I have felt safer with a helmet, twice it protected my head from hitting the tarmac. Having something between your head and anything else that it may hit can only be a good thing.

There are some other tips that I can give you that will improve your health while cycling on the road, not just in winter, but at any time:

* Cycle on the roads, not on the footpaths

* Don't break red lights

* Use your hands to indicate to other road users if you are turning

* Don't weave in and out of traffic

* Don't cycle with headphones on

* Check your tyre pressure on a regular basis and change your tyres

The winter can be a time when so many stop exercising due to feeling unsafe, for me it's a time when I actually love exercising. It's cold and fresh and we need those endorphins even more, so make yourself visible and go for it.

* Every week, features The Real Health podcast with Karl Henry, in association with Laya Healthcare. This week's podcast, with dietitian Orla Walsh, is the ultimate fat loss episode, and it's available at

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