Workout Tips for Winter Weather

It is raining buckets in my part of the world (Seattle), and the last thing I want to do is get outdoors – but it is also dark and dreary indoors, so out we go! We all need a bit of nudging to stay active through the often cold and dreary autumn and winter months. What could help nudge…motivate…persuade you to get out?

Fitness experts and those researchers focusing on physical activity benefits are finding that outdoor workouts in cold weather offer unexpected pluses that you might find surprising. As one example, increasing your exposure to sunlight may help fend off seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression linked to the change in seasons. And winter in many parts of the country might be cold, but also sunny. Rather than buying an expensive light that simulates daylight, why not get outdoors in that natural sunlight?

While indoor facilities such as gyms and athletic clubs can get quite crowded, parks, trails and greenbelts are less populated in colder months. Plus, a study from the University of Tampere in Finland found that working out in nature leads to greater emotional well-being and better sleep than exercising indoors —and that’s no less true in winter than in spring, summer or fall. And if you like to ride a bike, what a great time to use those empty trails.

However, you do need to prepare for the outdoors in the winter, especially if you have diabetes, heart or vascular problems, since you can be more susceptible to the dangers of cold weather. If you have diabetes, it is highly advisable to wear extra protection on your hands and feet to avoid frostbite. Check your blood sugar (glucose) before and after exercise to learn how your body is responding to your diabetes medication. If you have a history of cardiac problems, there is a possible increased risk of angina and even heart attack if you are not used to strenuous physical activity outdoors. If you have a medical history of any of these conditions, to be safe, it is advisable to get your doctor’s approval before beginning to exercise outside in winter.

Dress in layers. It is recommended that you start with a first layer of synthetic material or a wool-synthetic blend (no cotton), which wicks moisture away from the body. (Wet clothing draws heat away from the body.) Wear the next layer of fleece or wool to act as insulation, and finally cover with a breathable outer shell, which should be made of water- and wind-resistant material. Do not overdress either. Overheating can be just as uncomfortable as getting chilled.

And don’t forget to cover your head, as a significant amount of your body’s heat can be lost from not having your head covered. You might even find it more comfortable to have the type of cap that can cover part or most of your face. Supportive shoes or boots with good traction are an absolute must.

Hydrate. Your ability to sense thirst decreases when it is cold, plus experts have found that you have a greater need for hydration in cold weather. This is because as cold air is inhaled it is warmed, and the water vapor created is lost as you breathe out. Be sure to drink liquids at room temperature; ice-cold beverages can chill you.

And for those of us living in rainy weather, there are always slickers and rain jackets – and something called “sun breaks” in midday when we all try to get out to enjoy a bit of a walk in fresh air.

Activities to Combat the Winter Workout Blues

If you’re looking for some inspiration to kick your winter workouts into high gear, here’s a roundup of the calories you can expect to burn for select activities:

Ice Skating: 450 calories per hour
Ice skating boosts your endurance, balance and coordination and targets your abs, calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Plus, it’s fun!

Hiking: 445 calories per hour
Hiking isn’t for warmer months only. In fact, winter is a great time to hike, providing the ground isn’t icy and you can still follow trail markers at your favorite hiking spot. Just make sure you’re wearing well-insulated boots that will keep your feet dry and warm.

Sledding, Tobogganing, Bobsledding: 408 calories per hour
You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy sledding activities. After all, sledding is fitness disguised as fun. And hiking up a steep hill through the snow is a great aerobic workout amidst all the action.

Snow Skiing, downhill, moderate effort: 380 calories per hour
Although equipment rentals, lift tickets and other costs can make downhill skiing a more expensive exercise option, it’s a great fitness activity and calorie burner. If you’re looking for a more intense workout, consider cross-country skiing.

Walking: 225 calories per hour
Sometimes it’s a good idea to slow down and simply take in the seasonal surroundings. Get out of the house and walk your neighborhood to view your neighbors’ holiday decorations and the magic of winter wonderlands. As there’s limited daylight in the winter, wear reflective clothing if you plan to be out early in the morning or late in the evening.