Sure, school is canceled and you've started referring to a forecast of zero degrees as a heat wave, but the polar vortex doesn’t need to disrupt your workout schedule. Exercising outdoors can be safe, even exhilarating, experts and outdoor advocates said.

Chris Tripp bikes a few miles to work every morning in Minneapolis (so far this winter, he's skipped only two days).

"I've ridden in minus 20 and if it's fairly calm it's really not that bad," he said. "On days when it's snowing out and it's not terribly windy and the city is quiet, it gives me time to wind down after work. And in the morning, I get some cardio in and I feel ready to work. My heart rate is up without caffeine; it's a nice bonus."

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Nicole Cueno, endurance sports coordinator for the YWCA of Minneapolis, says while it's not for everyone, outdoor running is important for her both physically and mentally. The key to exercising outdoors in frigid temps? Proper clothing, she said.

"Good winter running pants and headgear (balaclavas) are not inexpensive but, if you're like me, you wear them more than your work clothes," Cueno said. "Winter running -- specific clothing will ensure that you stay warm (kind of) in the right spots but that you can move and won't be wet. Non-active wear tends to be bulky and constrictive and if it holds moisture, you will be wet, colder and more susceptible to hypothermia or frostbite."

Here's what she wore this morning (-5 F air temp, -20 F with windchill):

  • *Smartwool short-undies

  • *Ibex merino wool sportsbra

  • *Nike spandex shorts (longer style)

  • *Zensa compression socks

  • *Title 9 winter running pants

  • *Tech race t-shirt

  • *fleece-lined Nike winter running shirt

  • *Sporthill winter running top, 3/4 zip

  • *Asics cotton running gloves

  • *Red, fleece-lined mittens, possibly from the Dollar Store

  • *Ibex balaclava

  • *Patagonia fleece-lined hat

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For biking, some add an extra layer, plus clip-on winter biking boots, chemical hand and foot warmers, ski goggles, and an insulated bike helmet.

After gearing up, if there’s any exposed skin left, consider swiping on some Vaseline or cream designed to protect against frostbite. “There are days when it’s been really bad that I put a layer on -- and then I have to try to scrub it off when I get to work,” Tripp said.

After 5-10 minutes, your body will warm up. For the most part, anyway.

Nicole Cueno and Thea Fleming braved -20 windchill to run outside in Minneapolis this morning.Nicole Cueno

"I would say that I'm chilly in certain spots on most runs in the winter, but it's not a dangerous cold where I can feel my skin start to sting," Cueno said. "In other words, there is a difference between feeling cold in areas on your body and the beginning signs of frostbite or hypothermia."

The possibility of frostbite, however, is a good reason to find a partner to work out with.

"Some of your winter running might be in the dark and it will undoubtedly include some slippery footing," Cueno said. "Not only can a buddy provide motivation, camaraderie, and conversation, it is also safer."

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In Minneapolis, dedicated running and biking paths are often plowed before the streets are. But that’s not always the case. “Know your footing,” Cueno said. “You need to be aware that there are areas that might have black ice. These spots tend to form on the edges of snow patches before underpasses.”

"This time of year when it's slippery I do have to focus on road conditions; I can't think about work or home so I’m really in the moment, and it’s nice to have that," Tripp said.

Studded tires for bikes and mini-crampons for running shoes can provide stability.

Still not convinced? Even Cueno, an Olympic trials marathoner, says she’s done more indoor running this year.

"Outdoor running has been particularly tough this year and I do not think it is for everyone," she said. "Great alternatives are treadmill, indoor track, and even an indoor group if you have access to one."