A cold weather workout can be exhilarating – the crisp, biting air, the serene stillness, the solitude of fewer people outside. If you’re interested in getting more outdoor exercise this winter, don’t miss this essential winter weather fitness guide for inspiration:
Benefits of Exercising in the Cold
Sweat less – lower outdoor temperatures and drier air mean that even under a bright sun, your body is going to stay cooler and sweat less, even as your exercise intensity ramps up. You do still sweat some though and as that moisture evaporates off your skin, it can cool you off fast, so be mindful of keeping your temperature up to avoid hypothermia.
Burn more calories – it’s no surprise that your body expends energy to keep your internal temperature up. Not only does the cold activate brown fat which burns calories to generate heat, but the muscles themselves contract faster to keep you warm – you recognize this as “shivering.” Shivering may occur before or after exercise, but if you are shivering during exercise, you are likely not working hard enough or you’re not wearing enough clothing.
Combat S.A.D. – if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.), getting outside in the sunshine and fresh air could play an important role in minimizing its effects. Sun exposure can improve your vitamin D levels and spending time in nature has been shown to lift mood.
Build endurance – the theory goes, if you can achieve it in the bitter cold, you can go even further in warmer temperatures. Cold weather workouts could provide the invigorating edge you need to ramp up to your next personal best.
Winter Exercise Ideas
If your go-to fitness activity isn’t possible in the winter, try one of these 5 fun ideas instead:
- Nordic pole walking – activate more upper and lower body muscles (and therefore, burn more calories) on your daily walk by using Nordic poles. Research shows that compared to conventional walking, Nordic pole walking also boosts metabolic responses and oxygen absorption.
- Ice skating – ice skating isn’t just a fun holiday pastime; it also serves as an effective activity for honing your strength as well as your balance, coordination, and agility skills.
- Cross-country skiing – skip the lines and price tags associated with skiing at mountain resorts and give cross-country skiing a try. You can do it practically anywhere, like a park, and the continuous upper and lower body engagement means you burn lots of calories (300 – 500 calories in a half hour!).
- Sledding – the best sledding happens on the biggest hills which means you’re in for a serious aerobic workout when you break out the sled after a big snowstorm. Climbing hills largely work out your leg muscles and heart while steering (and trying to stay on) the sled as it descends requires you to work your core and arms.
- Hiking – few things match the beauty of a snowy landscape on a daytime winter hike. Incorporate more distance, inclines, and speed into your hike to increase its positive effects on your health (and your waistline).
Key Winter Fitness Reminders
Did you know that moisture gives off heat upwards of 25 times faster than air? This means that soaked sweaty clothing paired with cold, brisk weather (not to mention even a slight wind) could be a recipe for hypothermia.
Know the warning signs of hypothermia including shivering, confusion, slow, shallow breathing, lack of coordination, drowsiness and slurred speech. Always dress in warm layers of clothing made from materials that wick away moisture when working out outdoors in the winter.
Avoiding Common Winter Injuries
Inclement conditions that bring snow and ice your way could increase the hazards in your environment. Slips and falls are common along slick and icy roadways and trails and can result in dangerous injuries like wrist and ankle sprains and concussions.
Avoid running, cycling, and walking outside during bad winter weather and check forecasts frequently so you don’t get caught in a storm. If recovering from a fall-induced sprain, follow your doctor’s orders for resting, compressing, and bracing your injured limb. See a list of the most effective wrist braces here: Choosing the Best Wrist Brace
Prepping Your Muscles
Jumping into your cold weather workout without warming up first may increase your chances for soft tissue injuries. Your muscles give off heat in the cold leaving them stiff and tight. To avoid straining them, you always want to warm up prior to intense exercise to increase your muscles pliability.
Before a winter run, take a brisk 5-minute walk. Before a skiing adventure, do a short yoga session in your room. Before heading out on a cold weather hike, do dynamic warm-up movements like the elbow to knee raises and plyometric jump squats.