Benefits & Tips on How to Stay Fit During the Cold Winter Months
Andrea Proulx ND
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There are unique health benefits to training in the cool outdoors but there are also special considerations to take into account before stepping out the door.
The health benefits to exercise are innumerable. But why choose the great outdoors?
Fortunately, we are becoming more aware of the symptoms and treatments for seasonal affective disorder. SAD is a common condition with significant psychosocial impairment. Systematic Cochrane reviews published in 2007 have shown that light therapy is an efficacious and well-tolerated treatment for SAD. Even if you have not been clinically diagnosed with SAD, getting natural sunlight will be beneficial to your mood.
Although the treadmill or elliptical machines may appear to be easy options, they should be reserved for those days when conditions outside are hazardous (snow storm, hail etc.). Treadmill running does not allow for full stride length and can lead to hamstring imbalance which will set the stage potential for hip and knee injury.
Then there is the boredom factor. If you’ve ever spent more then 8 minutes on a treadmill, then you know what I mean. In this case warmth comes with a great price: extreme boredom.
The outdoors provide some picturesque cool and crisp scenery. Exposing your body to temperature contrasts can help prime your natural thermoregulation mechanisms helping your body to stabilize your body temperature both indoors and outdoors.
Mental focus and self-determination are qualities that will greatly improve, provided you stay on track and inspired. Begin with setting some personal goals. Do you aim to walk for 30 minutes three times a week? Or are you looking towards walking your first ½ marathon or pushing hard through an IronMan triathlon? Your goals can also be for the pure enjoyment of sport. Snowshoeing for example is rapidly increasing in popularity due to its low skill level and versatility. Did you know that adding the use of poles to your snowshoeing trek increases cardio effort by 40%? Making this an excellent means of muscular work for legs and upper body and a favourite cardiovascular exercise for all members of the family.
Before stepping outdoors, there are a few factors to take into consideration;
- Wear the right clothes. More is not better. The layer closest to your body must be made of a material designed to keep the sweat off your skin. Although Nike coined the label ‘Dry Fit’, there exist many types of moisture-wicking fabrics including Merino wool. The second layer, if needed, is for warmth: fleece will do great here. Lastly, the outermost layer is to defend against the elements; windproof is a must, waterproof a consideration. Just make sure it’s breathable and/or has flaps, mesh or zippers that will allow airflow. Dampness next to your body will result in only one thing: getting back onto the couch.
- Have the gear: sunglasses, a warm tuque and reflective stripes. Even if it is overcast, your eyes need to be protected from the glare off the snow. Your mother was right: you lose a large percentage of heat from your head, so wear a tuque that covers your ears. Lastly, given the shorter daylight hours, it is always wise to have reflective stripes on your clothes. Alternatively, you can attach your bike light to your tuque or jacket or use a head lamp to give warning to nearby traffic.
- Be prepared. Just like exercising in warmer temperatures, you need to stay hydrated and maintain electrolyte and blood glucose balance. Bring water and a light snack.In addition, a good habit for any outdoor exercise is to always carry personal identification and cab fare.
- Build a fan club. Telling friends, coworkers, family members about your new adventures will help keep you accountable and motivated. In addition, there are a variety of websites that will help you stay motivated and track your progress. www.mapmyrun.com is a favourite amongst runners. Check it out!
Take advantage of the beautiful seasons we have available to us. Winter sports are a means of maintaining cardiovascular fitness and cross-training for your favourite warm weather activities. Always consult with a health care provider before starting a new exercise program. Your naturopath doctor can help you with your nutritional concerns to keep your energy high and your body injury free.
Now get out there and enjoy the snow!