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Exercising in the Extremes

February 9, 2023

It’s a brisk morning in Michigan today; the sun is reflecting off the fresh fallen snow and the crunch of my snowshoes echo throughout the trees as I go collect firewood from our barn. While making the chilly trek, I reminisce on the variety of seasons mother nature blesses Michigan with and how my walks to the barn are easier on some days than others.

It may come as a surprise to some that there are safe exercise temperatures. Extreme heat and cold can be dangerous for many populations, especially those who have suffered a heart event. These recommendations are not just for those who live in places with frigid winters, but also those who live in hot and humid climates. While there are safety measures that many may take to safely perform exercise in extreme temperatures, some activities (and weather) should be completely avoided after a heart event.

The American College of Sports Medicine states that optimal exercising conditions are between 68℉ and 72℉ (20℃ and 22℃) and less than 60% humidity. We know that these conditions can only be achieved indoors and in a controlled environment! For outdoor conditions, it is generally accepted that safe exercise conditions are between 32℉ and 82℉ (heat index)/90℉ (humidity index) (0℃ and 28℃/32.2℃). In both environments, you should refer to the “feels like” guide in the weather. For example, in cold months, the windchill can make the outdoor temperature “feel like” 28℉ even if it is above freezing. Likewise, humidity can cause the temperature to “feel like” 95℉ even if it’s only 88℉.

What precautions can you take if you do decide to exercise in harsh temperatures?

COLD Environments:

For cold environments, make sure you have adequate layers and wear a warm barrier across your mouth (in Michigan, many people use balaclavas or bandanas). You also want to make sure that you warm your body up in your layers BEFORE going outside. Lastly, try limiting your time outside to 10 - 15 minutes. The most important rule: Absolutely NO snow shoveling or snow blowing. That means you can not shovel or snow blow the “light flurries” and it does not matter if your snowblower is “self-propelled”... the answer is NO. To see why snow shoveling/snow blowing is so dangerous, tune into our next blog post.

HOT Environments:

For hot and humid environments, make sure you dress in cool clothing that wicks moisture well. It is important to stay hydrated, as sweating and dehydration are the biggest dangers when the heat and humidity go up. Again, try to limit your time outside and adequately cool yourself before going outside a second time. The most important rule: limit high intensity interval training in hot weather, as it increases body temperature quicker than moderate exercise.  

Extreme weather, like hot or cold temperatures, is a great time to try a variety of indoor exercises. There are many exercises that can mimic our favorite outdoor activities, such as spin classes or stair climbers. It’s also a great time to try a new sport or activity, such as kickboxing, water aerobics, ZUMBA, or yoga and meditation. You may find a new exercise or class that you want to incorporate into your routine!


Liguori, G. (2021). ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. [VitalSource Bookshelf]. Retrieved from Source.

Reynolds, M. C. (2021, August 3). Hot Weather Exercise. Diabetes Self Management Patient Education Materials. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from Source.