Physical Activity in the Winter? It’s Snow Problem at All

Written by Optimity Team

(4 min read)

Oh, the weather outside is frightful

But the fire is so delightful

And since we’ve no place to go…

Let’s go outside for a walk anyway?

That didn’t rhyme, and goes against what most of us would rather do, but how about singing a new tune during the winter months? 

Regular physical activity has so many health benefits, including boosting our mental health and energy levels, which can be crucial during the winter season. Exercising in the cold can make us feel more alert, and it’s a great way to get some mood-boosting sunshine (which is hard to come by this time of year). Many of us also tend to indulge in holiday treats, and regular physical activity can help compensate for the occasional festive cookie…or two.

And while physical activity in the winter has some challenges (think: snow, sleet, ice, cold, fewer daylight hours), there are ways to overcome them. Outdoor activities that get your heart rate up like cardio or a quick exercise routine are vital for your health. Here are a few tips for being active in winter weather.

  1. Layer Your Clothing

First, let’s address the weather. Depending on where you live in Canada, you are dealing with snow or rain. Wearing layers is key to staying comfortable in cold weather. If you are properly dressed, your body temperature will be optimal as you head outside, and once you really start moving, removing a layer or two will keep you comfortable. 

The outer layer should protect you from wind and wetness. Don’t forget to cover your head, neck, and hands. Insulated footwear is also important for comfort and safety. Warm wool socks and boots will keep those toes toasty, and a good rubber grip will keep you safe on slippery surfaces. Adding metal coils/ice grips/cleats onto the sole of your boots are a great option to increase traction on snow and ice. Walking with poles can also help with balance on snowy surfaces, as well as provide a great upper body workout.

What about the darkness? With shrinking daytime hours, it gets dark pretty quickly in the winter, so wear reflective clothing (or add reflective armbands or a “construction site” vest) and carry a flashlight. Make sure drivers can see you!

  1. Warm-Up & Drink Water

Proper hydration and a good warm-up are both important, even in winter. Drink water before, during and after your workout, because you can still become dehydrated in cold weather. Don’t forget to warm up and cool down, as you should with any workout routine. 

A warm-up is especially important if you are shovelling snow. Shovelling snow comes with risks, as the physical demands coupled with cold weather can increase strain on the heart. Warm up your muscles (yes, your heart is a muscle!) with brisk walking and a few easy shovel-loads before getting into it. 

  1. Embrace Winter Activities

Take advantage of the beautiful, snowy wonderland out there and try a winter activity, like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, tobogganing/sledding, ice skating on a frozen rink or pond, or play with your kids/grandkids. Building a snowman or a snow cave is great physical activity. Make the most of the dark by walking around your neighbourhood and viewing festive lights.

But it’s really cold!

There are times when it is too cold to go outside and safely do our physical activity. Health Canada advises us to stay indoors when it is -40˚C or below, with the wind chill. Be on the lookout for hypothermia and frostbite as well. Frostbitten skin will look white or grey, while someone who is pale, shivering uncontrollably, and/or stumbling may have hypothermia. 

Keep an eye on the forecast and have a ready list of indoor activities you can choose from if it is too cold. Here are a few suggestions for indoor activities that go beyond a regular gym session:

  1. Put on the holiday music and speed clean your house (dance if you feel like it!)
  2. Hit the mall early and speed walk. Then go back to your favourite shops to also cross gifts off your list! Who doesn’t love multi-tasking?
  3. Walk stairs and do laps of the concourse at the local arena
  4. Try a new indoor class at your local recreation centre (e.g. fitness class, swimming, aqua-fit/aerobics, curling, public skating)
  5. Try an online fitness class at home. Roll out your mat and try yoga, grab those resistance bands or try something else that interests you.

These tips and ideas have got me motivated to be active! What about you? How do you stay active during the winter? 

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