Staying Active During the Winter Months
"Perhaps I am a bear, or some hibernating animal underneath, for the instinct to be half asleep all winter is so strong in me." - Anne Morrow Lindbergh
It's getting to be that time of year where I start to hear a lot of "Well, I was walking regularly, but then it started getting cold. And it gets dark so early now, and, you know..." Actually, I do. It can be so tempting to stay inside and hibernate for the winter. However, with the right clothing and equipment, getting outside during the cold season can be fun and exhilarating. I met a woman in Norway who stated that the Norwegian philosophy is that "there is no bad weather – just bad clothes!" So, I myself try to keep that in mind when I am out walking my dogs in zero degree weather.
When preparing for outdoor activity, don't overdress, and wear layers which help trap heat better than one heavier piece of clothing. In addition, layers allow you to better regulate your body temperature, since you can remove what you don't need as your activity level warms your body up. Choose clothing made of synthetics or wool, both of which retain their insulating abilities when wet, as opposed to cotton which, when wet, can lower your body temperature to a dangerous level. Wearing a hat is the single most effective way to modulate body temperature. We tend to lose about 60% of our body heat through our head. During extra cold or windy weather, use a facemask or scarf to protect exposed skin.
For many people, simply continuing a walking routine fulfills their need for winter exercise. However, there are many winter-only activities that can help you break out of your routine and give you a reason to look forward to colder temperatures. For example, snowshoeing is a great activity for many people. It is low impact, highly aerobic and easy to learn. Basically, if you can walk, you can snowshoe. Snowshoeing allows you to access areas that would be impossible to get to due to deep snow in the winter and brush and brambles in the summer, so it is a great sport for nature lovers. Cross country skiing requires a bit more balance and a steeper learning curve, but is great exercise and loads of fun. Additionally, sledding, snowball fights, building a snow fort or snowman and just playing outside with your kids are great ways to increase your activity level AND enjoy the cold weather. Finally, shoveling your driveway instead of using that snow blower allows you to kill two birds with one stone.
Make sure to invest in a good pair of waterproof winter boots. Many models look like beefed up hiking boots with extra insulation; choose footwear with good traction, and ones which are stable and comfortable for walking. Gaiters are nylon fabric tubes which go around your boots and stretch up over your pantlegs. They keep snow out of your boots and keep your lower legs dry and warm when walking through snow. Finally, traction devices, such as Yak Trax act like snow tires for your feet. These accessories fit over your boots or shoes and provide a good traction on icy or packed snow terrain. This is essential for winter safety and will increase your confidence when navigating slippery terrain.
No matter what activity you pursue, give winter workouts a try. With the right equipment and a positive attitude, you might just find yourself looking forward to the cold.
Kathleen Baskett, MD is the Medical Director of Weight Management at St. Vincent Healthcare. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the author of “Moving Forward: The Weigh to a Healthier Weight”.