A snow storm is on its way here. I mean, if you are from Minnesota or Winnepeg it’s not a real snow, but to a Californian living in Washington state, snowmageddon is imminent. If 2020 was the year many went from hygge (a Norwegian word for coziness) to friluftsliv (another Norwegian word for their concept of outdoor living including embracing the freezing weather), it’s about to get real as we head into the deepest part of winter. I'm all about minding good exercise form, and wintery nature adds more elements we can consider. The New York Times recently published a piece "Stay Healthy When Exercising Outdoors" on exercising well in winter. In that same spirit, here is more on moving more outside when it's cold. (Or "cold" as my friend Heidi G. in Wisconsin would probably say, while also using sarcastic air quotes. I SEE YOU.)
Slippery surfaces. Get your stuff in order—that goes for gear like shoes that offer traction (check out inexpensive cleats that slip onto shoes that can help you step more confidently) as well as getting your body ready. Add balance training and corrective exercises—easy to do in a handful of minutes each day in-home—so you’re better suited to deal with the increased demands of stabilizing your body when they suddenly come into an area without as much traction. P.S. Lots on this in my online Walking Well: A Stepwise Approach to an Everyday Movement gait course with Jill Miller! Just sayin'.
Blocked! Sometimes weather makes the places we know unavailable. Ask your community about new areas you might not be sure of or use your on-foot exercise time to explore new areas for hidden gems.
Find the hills. “Uphill” is nature’s heater.
Go out for multiple, shorter sessions. Instead of trying to get out for one long session, take multiple breaks from sitting inside and pepper a day with short bouts (10-20 minutes, depending on your cold tolerance and fitness level) of exercise. This approach not only breaks up a day of stillness, it keeps outside accessible—you don’t need to be able withstand a long bout of freezing weather in order to get outside.
Choose modes of movement that get all of your parts moving so it’s easier to stay warm.
If you want to try a new outdoor winter activity that requires gear, find an outdoor equipment shop that offers rentals and recommendations on locations to try.
Pack a small thermos of warm liquid to sip on—something hydrating and warm at the same time! This has been key for all our family winter outings because it makes going out (and staying out) with littles a lot easier!
Be ready to take advantage of better weather. Check the next day's forecast and tweak your schedule to meet the good weather. If there's a break in the storm or if the sun's out first thing in the morning, staying up until 1:00 a.m. watching YouTube videos the night before isn't going to help you catch the best opportunity.
Don't only think outside the house, think outside the box. Kids need to move a lot but aren’t often into exercise or "going for a run." Use short sessions in these cases as well, and keep it playful. Do a short foot/snowshoe race around the block and try to make it without stopping. For a burst of warming activity, have a “fastest snowman” contest or if it’s icy, play some impromptu broom shuffleboard. Get out first thing and find as many animal tracks as you can. (Got kids? More ideas on how to get them moving in my book Grow Wild!)
And speaking of warming up: Cold muscles don’t work as well as warm ones. Use a warm-up not only as time to increase blood distribution but as a time to practice good form—form that will come in handy for the mode of exercise you’re about to dig in to. I’d opt for big, whole-body movements vs. stretches—movements that increase heat and breath a bit. And start your exercise right after warming up. Just like plane de-icing only lasts so long on wings sitting on a runway, you’ve got to let your workout fly right after warming up. If you’ve taken a break in between, you’ll need to warm up again.
Finally, my good friend Ray Martinez, M.S. —an exercise physiologist who works in cardiac rehab—has this advice for those with heart conditions exercising in very cold weather: Blood needs to infuse the myocardium (the heart muscle), but if you jump into intense exercise and cold weather at the same time, the body might have to choose between moving blood into the heart or moving it into the core to maintain heat. For this reason, prolonged warm ups, and keeping the initial intensity lower for a prolonged period of time are recommended.
And as always, enjoy every minute!