Go for the Cold: Staying Active Outdoors in Winter
by Bill Johnson
With the return of winter comes the chance to experience the joy that can come with taking on all the season has to offer. Outdoor exercise can be challenging in any season, but winter can make it especially difficult to take that first step out the door. But determination, proper planning, and the right gear can keep Mother Nature from stopping you cold.
Indoor exercise can make the winter seem a lot longer, so a little outdoor exercise can improve your attitude toward winter. Here are some tips to help ensure a safe winter workout.
Dress in Layers
Layer clothing beneath an outer shell that is as waterproof and windproof. Layering helps maintain body heat and helps prevent sweat from staying on your skin.
Closest to the skin should be a thin layer of synthetic microfibers, such as polypropylene or Capilene to help wick sweat away from the body. The second layer provides insulation. It should assist in wicking moisture as well.
Carry extra dry clothing to change into in case you stop for a break and you have been sweating. Putting on dry clothes before you resume exercising will reduce the risk of hypothermia.
Do Not Dry Out TOP
Though there is not the heat and humidity associated with summer exercise, the cold air is often very dry and robs the body of moisture. Frigid winds increase the dehydration factor. Carry a water bottle and drink plenty of fluids. Drinking during the hour or two before exercising is also a good idea.
Eat for Heat TOP
It is always important to get enough calories during prolonged exercise. It is especially critical in winter when the stress of cold increases how quickly calories are used. Consider energy bars or gels.
Calling for Help TOP
Those who take their sport into the backcountry might want to carry a cell phone in the event of an emergency. It is also important to let someone at home know the details of your adventure in advance, especially useful if there is no cell reception. If you have the opportunity at the trailhead, it is important to sign in and out so others will know you are out there.
Trail Running/Snowshoeing TOP
Most of the single-track trails frequented by trail runners are obscured by snow or covered in packed snow and ice. This can sometimes be overcome by attaching traction devices to your trail shoes.
Tracks made by snowmobiles are great, but many trail runners prefer to chart their own course. That is why snowshoeing, a low-impact sport which can burn calories equal to running or cross-country skiing, is becoming popular with trail runners. Snowshoe sales are skyrocketing. And snowshoe races are becoming routine in many areas.
Mountain Biking TOP
Many bicyclists enjoy riding well into the winter by following a few precautions. In addition to proper layering, you should wear a head band over your ears or a neck gaiter on especially cold days to hold in the heat. A balaclava under the helmet is also a good idea. Neoprene boot covers help on windy days.
Riders should also make sure that they have reflective material on their clothes or bike so they can be seen by cars on dark winter nights. Studded snow tires or chains are also a good option in icy conditions.
Bad weather need not stop hikers. As long as you are dressed properly, and don't sit around wet in an open area, hiking can be an enjoyable winter activity.
However, snow-covered ice can be treacherous, so you'll want to use poles or stabilizers on your shoes for traction. Travel in a group of three or more persons to ensure safety in the event of an emergency. That allows for someone to go for help while the other remains with an injured person.
Common Sense TOP
While today's advanced gear has helped tame winter, there are times when it might be best to stay indoors, especially when the wind chill is dangerously low. However, with the proper gear, caution, and determination, most of us can successfully take our favorite sports into winter's arena.
American Council on Exercise
British Columbia's Travel Guide
University of Calgary Outdoor Centre
Fit for duty... fit for life! US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps website. Available at: http://ccmis.usphs.... Accessed Octobr 17, 2013.
Information about winter hiking, gear and clothing, Dartmouth University. Available at: http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/whites/winter.html. Accessed October 17, 2013.
Last reviewed October 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 10/17/2013