What are ways to stay active during the winter?

What are ways to stay active during the winter?
Wintertime does not have to bring your exercise routine to a grinding halt. Getting outside to exercise gives you a chance to breath fresh air and helps burn those excess calories consumed during the holidays. Working out in cold or inclement conditions, however, does require attention to issues that don’t come into play during warmer seasons. Here are some tips to address some of those concerns so that you can exercise safely and enjoyably.

  1. Dress the Part. An old Norwegian saying sums it up: “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”. Wintertime can be a wonderful time to get outside, but not if your clothing is not up to the task. Instead of wearing a single heavy garment, dressing in layers of clothing will provide more warmth and protection from the elements. Layering also allows you to control your temperature more effectively. Should you become overheated or begin to sweat during activity or exercise, you can remove or open up a layer to ventilate. As you cool down, zip up or add a layer. A base layer made from a synthetic fabric, such as Capilene or Coolmax, should be worn next to the body. It keeps the skin dry by “wicking” moisture away. Next, an insulating layer of wool or synthetic fleece traps air to keep you warm. When conditions dictate, an outer shell layer that is both windproof and waterproof can be worn. Ideally, this garment also “breathes” to allow moisture to escape from the body. Gore-Tex is the trade name for one of the most popular fabrics with these characteristics. Wear a hat and gloves or mittens with the thermometer plunges. Consider buying exercise shoes a half-size or one size larger than usual to allow for thick thermal socks or an extra pair of regular socks.
  2. Warm up first. It easier to go out into the cold if you warm up inside first. Try jogging in place or doing jumping jacks for 5 to 10 minutes prior to going outside. Stop your warmup before you start sweating in order to avoid evaporative heat loss once outside.
  3. Don’t push it. Inclement weather conditions can make exercising outside risky. If there is ice or snow on the ground don’t worry about how fast or far that you are going. Walking can be made safer from a traction standpoint if using a more heavily lugged trail running shoe or a product designed for traction on ice or snow such as Yaktrax.
  4. Be noticed. The shorter days of winter means that you may be working out in the dark. Find well-lit locations to work out, preferably away from traffic. A lighted track at a nearby school is ideal. By wearing brighter, reflective clothing, motorists will be able to see you better. Carry a flashlight or a headlamp so that you can see where you’re going. Leave the ear buds and your favorite music at home. Losing your ability to hear clearly as well having your sight restricted by the dark increases your vulnerability.
  5. Find a Friend. Making a commitment to work out with a friend can help to keep you from finding excuses to not exercise as well as making the workout more of a social experience. In particularly bad weather conditions having a friend to “share the misery” can make the experience seem less onerous and can provide a margin for safety. Ironically, sometimes the most challenging experiences can end up being the most memorable.
  6. Go indoors. In certain weather conditions, it’s better to work out indoors rather than risking injury, hypothermia, or frost bite. Most gyms offer a variety of exercise equipment that will cross over to outdoor activities. Walkers or runners should feel at home on a treadmill. Cyclists can spin on a stationary bike. Going to the gym also offers the opportunity to lift weights or participate in an exercise class. If you stay at home, exercising to a workout DVD or home exercise equipment can substitute for an outdoor work out. Another option is to walk in an indoor mall or shopping center. Just make sure to avoid the candy store!

For most people, winter is not the best time to try to achieve new levels of fitness or to prepare for a major athletic event. By the same token, winter should not be seen as the time to rest on one’s laurels until the days get longer and warmer. Extra attention may need to be paid to clothing, weather conditions, and the mode of exercise but the benefits of staying active will far exceed any inconvenience. As the Nike ad says, “Just Do It”.

If you have any more questions just Ask Hanna, our health advisors are here to help.
Image: ©Shutterstock / Andrey Yurlov

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