January 29, 2019

Outdoor exercise options in the winter

Winter sport in Finland - nordic walking. Man and Senior woman hiking in cold forest. Active people outdoors. Scenic peaceful Finnish landscape with snow.

As daylight disappears and temperatures drop, you might be tempted to re-locate your fitness routine indoors, if not abandon it altogether.

But while the weather outside is frightful, exercising outdoors can still be delightful.

Whether you’re already dedicated to staying active through a multitude of winter sports or you’re looking for some encouragement to workout outdoors until spring returns, these wintertime tips will prepare you to stay safe, warm and fit over the next few months.

Pack on the layers

One of the main drawbacks to exercising outdoors in the winter can be overcome with proper wardrobe planning, which mitigates the risk of hypothermia and frostbite.

Dress in layers and dress to stay dry. Start with a base layer, something synthetic that wicks moisture away from the skin. Then a thermal layer — this layer keeps the heat in, like insulation — on top of that. The outer shell should be water and wind resistant.

If unsure about which item fulfills which layer, look at the tags. Avoid cotton in layering, as it traps moisture, making the body uncomfortable and much more vulnerable to the cold.

Because heat is generated during exercise, it is important not to stay bundled up for the entirety of a workout. Adjust layers for workout intensity, weather conditions and body temperature. Once sweating begins, shed a layer to keep dry, then put it back on as needed.

Additional accessories like glove liners, mittens, hats or headbands, scarves, thermal socks and ski masks protect extremities, as much of the heat that is generated during exercise stays close to the core.

Warm up with dynamic movement

It’s true that exercising in cold weather requires a bit of extra preparation, which includes allocating additional time to prepare the body’s muscles.

It is essential for outdoor recreators to participate in a dynamic stretching warm-up prior to exercise. Increasing blood flow to working muscles and gradually ramping up to higher intensities allows the body to progressively acclimate to the cold and can contribute to injury prevention.

A dynamic warm-up consists of low-intensity actions that move major joints and muscles through motions that mimic the exercise that will be performed. For example, prior to snowshoeing, a dynamic warm-up could include marching in place, or forward and back with high knees for 4-5 steps, calf raises, leg swings front to back and side to side on each leg and side bends.

Be visible

Snow, rain, overcast or dark skies and other low visibility conditions can put outdoor exercisers at risk. Wear neon-colored clothing and reflective gear to make yourself visible to motorists and other recreators while walking, running, hiking or biking.

If out in the dark, carrying a flashlight, displaying blinking lights or wearing a headlamp enhances personal visibility by revealing obstacles and potentially preventing falls.

Bikers should use headlights and taillights while riding and should stick to plowed and salted surfaces.

Some parks and trails have areas open to hunting and trapping between October and April. Parkgoers (and their pets) are advised to be informed and to wear blaze orange during hunting season.

Gather the proper gear

To mitigate risk and safely participate in select wintertime activities, it might be necessary to purchase or rent sport-specific gear.

Walkers, runners, hunters and hikers should ensure that footwear provides adequate traction. Trail running shoes and hiking boots have an aggressive tread on the bottom to reduce the risk of falls. Shoe covers with spikes, such as YakTraks, and snowshoes further enhance traction for easier travel through icy or snowy conditions.

Trekking, snowshoe and ski poles offer added balance and stability for snow-sport enthusiasts when traversing uneven, steep or otherwise challenging winter terrain.

Proper-fitting, sport-specific helmets should be worn when skiing, snowboarding, biking, snowmobiling and playing ice hockey. While moving at high speeds, goggles offer basic eye protection, including from snow or ice glare.