“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” —Nordic saying
I recently moved back to Massachusetts after living in Pennsylvania for many years, and I am becoming reacquainted with the infamous New England winters. Let me tell you, if you’ve never been to New England, winters here are: 1) “wicked” long, 2) cold, and, 3) snowy. In other words, as my new neighbor puts it, “Wintahs are haadcoor up heah!”
And while I’ve always loved winter, I can’t say that these New England winters are exactly conducive to outdoor exercise. Exercising outside during the winter is a whole different ballgame than exercising outside during the rest of the year. But it’s not impossible. And I have quickly learned that if I am going to survive up North and try and maintain a healthy lifestyle, I am going to have to find a way to exercise outside despite Mother Nature’s best attempts to deter me. Luckily, there are many ways to stay active outside in the winter.
Get Creative with Your Workouts
If you are a runner, walker, or hiker, there’s no reason to stop your regular workouts just because the temperature has dropped. With some minor tweaks, you can keep up your regular routine. For example, since it gets darker a lot earlier in the evening, you may want to head outdoors during the daytime hours when it’s lighter. Or if you usually hike solo, you might want to recruit a friend to tackle a snowy trail with you.
When the weather outside is frightful
On the other hand, if you’re ready to swap your usual aerobic activity in favor of something involving the white fluffy stuff, then ice skating, snowshoeing, sledding, skiing, or snowboarding are all great forms of cardio that feel more like play and less like a workout.
If you’re a parent, you might struggle to find time to fit in exercise. The good news is, building a snowman with your kids, throwing down in a good old-fashioned snowball fight, or pulling those rascals up and down a sledding hill are all great forms of exercise. (Bonus: You will tire your kids out too!)
And don’t underestimate the benefits of shoveling snow. Although it’s admittedly less fun than other snow activities, it’s one of the best forms of aerobic exercise! Just make sure you abide by these safe snow shoveling tips.
Top 5 Benefits of Exercising Outside During the Winter
Need some incentive to bundle up and venture outside in the chilly weather? Here are just a few of the many benefits of outdoor winter exercise:
- You get a dose of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a crucial vitamin for bone and skin health but is in scarce supply during the long, dark days of winter. Exercising outside during the winter is a surefire way to increase your vitamin D.
- You burn more calories. Your body has to work extra hard to maintain your core body temperature during the colder months, and that extra work means you’re burning more calories.
- You gain valuable training experience. Working out in less than stellar conditions builds endurance. As tough as it may seem now, there’s payoff come May when you are cruising through a beautiful, 68-degree race day (which will seem like a breeze after toiling through your winter workouts).
- You do your heart a favor. Those rosy cheeks you get after a winter workout are a sign of healthy circulation and increased blood flow — your body is working harder to pump blood throughout your body. In fact, working out in the cold is great protection against heart disease in general.
- You give yourself a mood boost. Exercise (at any time of the year) produces endorphins that can help to reduce anxiety and depression. Since your body has to work harder to stay warm in the cold weather, more endorphins are released. This can be especially helpful during the winter months when many people suffer from SAD (seasonal affect disorder). When you get active outside in the cold weather, your brain releases serotonin and dopamine — chemicals that naturally boost your mood. Swap the treadmill for the great outdoors and you’ll find yourself refreshed and invigorated.
Tips for exercising outside during the winter
So, if you’re finally ready to venture outside this winter, just keep in mind a few things:
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Hydrating is always important, but it’s even more so during the colder months when the air is extremely dry. You should hydrate before, during, and after your workout.
- Layer up. The ideal combination is three layers. Your base layer should be a synthetic material (avoid cotton) that wicks away moisture. Your thermal layer keeps heat in, so choose something with insulation like wool or fleece. And your outer shell should be water and wind resistant. As you heat up, you can peel off layers.
- Bring on the neon. Dress in bright colors and make sure you wear a lot of reflective gear. In the dark winter months, it’s harder to see so you want to make yourself as visible as possible.
- Protect your extremities. Make sure you wear gloves, a hat, and scarf to protect your extremities from frostbite. Wearing a scarf or ski mask also has the added benefit of heating up the cold air before it enters your lungs.
- Get a grip. Avoid slips and falls with slip-proof footwear that gives you good traction. If you are hiking or walking through snow, you’ll want to make sure you are wearing waterproof footwear.
- Warm up indoors. Warm-ups are always important, but even more so if you will be exercising outside during the winter. It’s wise to warm up inside so your blood is flowing and your heart rate is up a bit before you step outside into the elements.
Exercising outside during the winter doesn’t have to be intimidating. All it requires is a sense of adventure and some warm clothes. Once you take that first step, you’ll be hooked in no time. Happy (snowy) trails!