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Ten Ways to Stay Fit this Winter

Renee Despres
Monday, February 20, 2017 - 04:29Cross country skiing

When the winter’s snow and rain gather at your window pane, how do you get out the door for your daily workout? Cold weather, icy streets, and winter winds may dissuade you from your morning run, but they don't have to equal loss of fitness. Whether your winter fitness goals are improving overall health, weight control, or training for a competitive event next spring, you can find a way to stay fit over the winter months.

We've collected ten of the best workout strategies to help you -- and your waistline -- meet your fitness goals despite Old Man Winter’s best attempts to keep you indoors. Make these ten tweaks to your work out routines, and you can exercise safely and happily all winter long.

  • 1: Be Flexible. You may be happiest if you can find ways to stick to your usual exercise routine. But even if you're a one-sport sort of person, you need to be flexibl in the face of winter’s unpredictability. Runners or cyclists might need to adapt their routines, perhaps changing the time of day to mid-afternoon, when temperatures peak, or mixing up outdoor and indoor work out routines. Favorite routes may need to be altered if ice and snow are problems. If you wake up in the morning to a world covered in brilliant, sparkling ice, you may need to change your work out plans. Scrap the morning run and plan for a later exercise session, after things have melted a bit. Or change your workout plans altogether – instead of a run, jump on the treadmill, head to the gym or swimming pool, or pull out the cross-country skies. Scrapping one work out plan doesn't mean scrapping fitness. .
  • 2: Cross train. Use winter sports and indoor training to add variety to your routine. Cross-training can help to strengthen muscles you don’t generally use, improve balance and flexibility, and ward off burn-out. Try a winter sport, such as cross country skiing, snowshoeing, or ice skating, and you just might start to look forward to snow-packed roads.
  • 3: Use the right gear. No matter what your sport, the right winter gear makes it a whole lot more fun – and safer. Outdoor exercise can become dangerous when slippery ice builds up on roads and trails, the wind chill factor dips below zero, and short winter days mean night-time outings. Runners and walkers should consider investing in a set of lightweight crampons, such as YakTraks, which can help to prevent a slip on the ice. If you’ll be outdoors at dusk or dawn, or while it’s dark outside, add lights and reflective geart. Attach reflective gear or flashing lights to arms and legs – the movement will make it easier for drivers to see you.
  • 4: Dress for the right sport. Different sports mean different energy expenditures -- and different needs for warmth. Runners should generally use the 15 to 20 degree rule: Always dress as if it’s 15 to 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer than it really is outside. Walkers need a layer or two more than runners. Cross-country skiers may need about the same or even less insulation but more wind- and water- proof protection. Cyclists should pay special attention to wind protection, feet, and hands. Consult your local specialty store – for instance, a running or cycling store – and ask both staff and patrons what clothing works for them in your climate.
  • 5: Layer on the microfibers. Gone are the days when working out during the winter meant wet, soggy clothes next to your skin. Layers of today’s sophisticated microfibers, each with its own function, can help you stay dry and warm in the worst conditions. Avoid cotton next to your skin -- it will only get soggy, heavy, and cold. Use a soft, thin, wicking layer next to your skin, followed by an insulating layer, then a wind- and water- proof layer. Cover your hands, eyes, ears, mouth, and nose in extremely cold conditions. Take off a layer of those microfibers if you feel your skin getting wet with sweat. The drier you are, the more comfortable you’ll be.
  • 6: Head to the gym: If you really, truly, can’t get excited about heading outdoors on a wintry day – or if you have a health condition that makes it unsafe to exercise in the cold (See Need to Know) – invest in a gym membership and return that high-tech winter running suit you got for Christmas. Choose a gym that meets your needs and style. Are you a social exerciser? Do you do better solo, or in an organized fitness class? Could a physical trainer help you reach your fitness goals? Evaluate the gym’s resources before you sign the contract.

Need To Know:

Winter Can Be Dangerous for People with Asthma or Heart Conditions

Cold weather exercise may be dangerous for some people. Two groups of people, in particular, should consult with their physicians before exercising in cold weather:

  • People with asthma. Cold air is a common asthma trigger. In addition to consulting with their physicians before starting a winter work out program, people with asthma should ensure that their asthma is under good control , could be triggered by cold air.
  • People with heart conditions: According to the American Heart Association, cold weather can trigger angina pectoris (chest pain or pressure) in people with coronary heart disease. In addition, winter weather may lead to overexertion – for instance, shoveling snow or simply working harder to walk in deep snow – which, in turn, has been linked to increase in heart attacks.
  • 7: Create a home gym. A home gym has several advantages over a gym membership. It's there 24/7, whether or not you've got a sitter for the kids. You don't have to brave icy roads to get there. And using home exercise equipment can be a family affair. A basic home gym should include at least one machine for aerobic exercise, such as a treadmill, cross-country ski machine (e.g. Nordic Track), stationary bicycle, stair-step machine, or rowing machine. Add a few strengthening devices such as small dumbbells and elastic stretch cords, a fitness mat, a mirror, and a music source – and you’ve got yourself a place for a great home work out.
  • 8: Find a friend. Set up a regularly scheduled time to meet with one or more friends and establish regular training dates. Not only will it make your outings more fun – you’ll be safer with a friend along.
  • 9: Think “and,” not “or.” Tempting as it may be to curl up with a blanket, a good book, and a cup of hot cocoa, think how much better it will feel to warm those toes after you’ve finished that cross-country ski or wintertime run. You can have both!
  • 10: Have fun! The most effective strategy for getting out the door in the winter? Remind yourself that it's really all about fun. Think about those childhood days when just couldn’t wait to get outside on a snowy day. Post inspirational pictures in key places – the bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator, at the back door – of people running, walking, skiing or playing in the snow. Then get out and throw some snowballs!


Image credit: lightpoet / 123RF Stock Photo