Lungs & Running in Cold Weather

by Christy Callahan

About Christy Callahan

Christy Callahan has been researching and writing in the integrative health care field for over five years, focusing on neuro-endocrinology. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, earned credits toward a licensure in traditional Chinese medicine and is a certified Pilates and sport yoga instructor.


When the weather outside is frightful, you do not have to relegate yourself to using a treadmill every day. Cold temperatures, however, can dampen your enthusiasm for "pounding some pavement." The cold air will affect your lungs, although it does not cause colds. If you have previous lung conditions, cold air may exacerbate your symptoms. Proper clothing and hydration protect your lungs and keep you safe and healthy while running in winter weather.


If you are going to embark on a run in the cold, keep your body's temperature in mind. As a warm-blooded animal, your body works to maintain a core temperature of about 98.6 degrees F. In cold weather, your body prioritizes its blood flow, bringing most of it away from your extremities and into your torso. When you exercise, your temperature will increase, but as soon as you stop, hypothermia can set in quickly, particularly if you are sweating.

Breathing in the Cold

Although the winter air is cold, if you breathe through your nose, your body attempts to warm the air before it enters your lungs. Blood rushes to your nose, hence the red color at the tip, to fill blood vessels, which will warm the air as it passes through. You also have a mucus layer lining your entire respiratory system, which protects you. This layer works to catch unwanted particles, keeping them from entering your lungs. In cold temperatures, this mucus becomes thicker and harder to expectorate, leaving potentially irritating particles in your respiratory system.

Keys To Safe Winter Running

In cold weather, your clothing can mean the difference between staying warm or becoming mildly hypothermic, or worse. recommends layering, beginning with a base fabric that will pull sweat away from your skin. Fabrics like polypropylene, wool, wool/synthetic blends and treated polyesters like capilene are recommended for insulation without wetness. Your outer layer, both top and bottom, should be windproof or resistant, and you should always wear a hat, gloves and warm socks. Wearing a scarf around your mouth and nose traps moisture, making it easier to breathe. Hydration is also extremely important, as you may sweat a great deal under clothing. Also, you lose your own fluids through exhaled vapor, especially in extremely cold temperatures where the air becomes very dry.

Lung Conditions

Having a lung condition, like asthma, can complicate exercising in cold weather. When cold air hits your lungs, your body releases stores of histamine, which can lead to an allergic reaction and wheezing, especially in asthma sufferers. The British Lung Foundation recommends carrying your medication, like an inhaler, with you when you are outside and exercising. Breathing through your nose and covering your nose and mouth with a scarf can help reduce the likelihood of an asthma attack. If you have a respiratory infection, or pulmonary heart disease, talk to your doctor before venturing out into the cold.

Photo Credits:

  • Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Getty Images

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or