If you live in an area that gets a typical winter season, you may find it challenging to stay fit given your environment during the winter months. Although no doubt it can get very cold in many parts of the world, the outdoors provides a wonderful opportunity to have fun and stay in shape over the winter months.
Sometimes it is hard to get motivated, given the comfort and warmth of the indoors, added to the fact that we have more darkness in the mornings and evenings. Yet with a little discipline to start, the winter can be a season to be enjoyed rather than just tolerated.
For some the winter months represent a repeated cycle of packing on the pounds, only to feel bad when spring approaches because “it’s time to get ready for bathing suit season again”. Taking just a 20 minute brisk walk after dinner every evening can make the difference between maintaining your health and physique, versus feeling like a beached whale after gaining 10 or 15 pounds over the winter months.
Far from being just about keeping a certain physique, keeping active has a myriad of health benefits, one of which is mental health. Seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.) is a depressive state that is brought on by lack of sunlight and many suffer from this. Exercise combats depression and helps ward off these winter blues.
Research has even proven the mental benefits of exercise on memory and cognition for all ages. Studies show that children who exercise show greater aptitude in academic testing and it is believed that exercise has a protective effect against dementia and Alzheimer’s in seniors.
How to Enjoy the Winter Outdoors
A winter workout doesn’t have to be a costly ordeal. Walking is free and if you want to be even more challenged, just walk through fresh snow and you’ll be working up a sweat in no time. If you are concerned about icy conditions or really have trouble bearing the cold, take advantage of the indoor walking that many local community venues organize. For seniors especially or for anyone who is going outside when the sidewalks are possibly icy, I recommend cleat-like straps that easily slip onto footwear to prevent falls.
For the more adventurous, find a second-hand sports store and you can get inexpensive snowshoes, skates, or cross-country skis. For more thrill-seeking types, for less than $20 you can invest in a toboggan and you can brave a hill with a group of kids. There is no better workout than a child who has endless energy to bound up the hill begging you to go down “just one more time PLEEEEEZ” for the umpteenth time!
As for dressing for the weather, I’ve heard it said before that there is no such thing as weather that is too cold, only clothing that is not appropriate for the conditions. Even in sub-zero temperatures, dressing with snow pants on (or at the very least long-johns under pants), layers under a winter coat, a hat, scarf, warm gloves, and boots, you will be sweating within minutes of a brisk walk. Every time I see young men wearing baseball caps in snowstorms, or women that don’t wear hats for fear of messing up their hair, I shiver inside. I too would certainly not enjoy the winter if I was not dressed properly and constantly cold.
In January 2013, Maclean’s magazine published the article entitled Why Sitting is a Dangerous Health Threat. It cites the act of being sedentary as being the new plague of our generation, akin to obesity or smoking. Sitting throughout the day for extended periods of time is linked to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. One study out of Australia showed that every single hour of TV viewed may shorten life by as much as 22 minutes.
We live in a technological age that makes us sit far more than any previous generation. Long commutes to work, jobs that require sitting still for hours, increased TV viewing in all ages, and the ever-present home computer challenge us to keep active. Why not start with having fun with winter while it lasts? After all, it keeps coming back every year, so it would seem sensible for us to learn to work with it, if for nothing more than the sake of our health.