As the days get shorter and the temperatures start to dip in many parts of the country, it’s tempting to hibernate in our cozy homes and put exercise low on our list of priorities. But physical activity is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. According to the latest Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, adults aged 18-64 should be getting at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity a week. (For children and youth, it’s at least 60 minutes daily!) Even moderate exercise like walking on a regular basis can improve cardiac risk factors and mental health.
So don’t let colder weather keep you from reaping the benefits of an exercise regimen. In fact, you may find you even grow to prefer winter exertion to warm-weather workouts. Here are some tips to get you moving even when the thermostat starts falling.
Wearing layers of clothing can help protect you against the wind, snow and other elements and give you the option of removing clothing when you get too hot. The first layer against your skin should be lightweight polyester or synthetic so that it will dry quickly, while wool or polyester fleece for the second layer will keep you warm. If it’s raining or snowing, wear a third layer that’s lightweight and water repellent to keep you dry.
Cover the extremities
Hats and gloves are also essential when you’re exercising in colder weather as both will help your body retain heat. Wearing gloves will also prevent skin from chapping and getting damaged from frostbite. If you do see patches of hard, pale cold skin appearing on your body while you’re exercising outdoors, it may signal that frostbite is already under way so get indoors as soon as possible and slowly warm the affected area.
Look for a clear route
If possible, scope out your walking or running route ahead of time to ensure that the path has been cleared of snow and ice. Always go in well-lit areas after dark and avoid busy streets. Make sure to wear reflective clothing if you’re exercising after dusk so that motorists can see you.
Don’t underestimate the power of walking
Regardless of the season, walking is a convenient way to get active by literally putting one foot in front of the other. If you’ve never frequented a gym or done much of any exercise before, walking is a fantastic way to start moving and keep moving year-round. According to several studies conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, regular walking significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular events and even death.
Think about form
When walking, try to keep your posture erect, with your chin up, shoulders squared and eyes looking ahead. Keep your arms bent at the elbow and close to the torso. Your back should be straight, with your belly flat and your backside tucked in.
Don’t be afraid to try something new
There are a slew of seasonal activities that can get your blood pumping when the temperatures are dipping. Lace up your old skates and visit the local ice rink with the family. Grab a sled and find a local hill for tobogganing. Or, take a drive and hit the slopes for some downhill skiing or snowboarding. For the slightly cautious, there’s cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. For the super-adventurous, there’s snow mountain biking and heli-skiing.
Remember to breathe
Practise breathing techniques when you’re doing any kind of exercise, indoors or out. Try inhaling to a count of two and exhaling to a count of four. Breathing through your nose is ideal because it filters dust particles from the air and helps to maintain the proper balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. However, if your nose is congested or feels particularly dry during the winter weather, a natural-source saline solution can help clear the passages and add essential moisture.
Listen to your body
Be sure to check with your doctor before attempting rigorous winter activities. Remember to stretch before and after and to stay well hydrated throughout your exercise regimen. If the temperature dips below zero, it’s probably best to head for the treadmill or try another indoor activity.