The Weather Outside May Be Frightful, Still Take a Walk
by Chris Little
We all know it’s important to exercise, but in winter it can be hard to get motivated. When it’s cold outside, it can be so cozy to just snuggle under a blanket in front of the TV. Add to that concerns about social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, and it can be even harder to get off the couch and move.
Still, none of that changes the fact that exercise is good for us—body, mind, and soul. It keeps our bones and muscles fit, our weight in a healthy range, our brains more efficient, and our emotions lighter.
And it turns out that exercising outside in the winter can be especially beneficial. Outdoor winter exercise burns more calories because our bodies have to work harder to stay warm. It offers a bracing change of pace at a time when we’re spending most of our days inside. And getting fresh air and sunshine in winter can even help battle the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
How can we make outdoor exercising work in winter? One idea: Take a walk! Walking is great exercise, and it can be especially rewarding in winter. Here are some tips for making the most of your winter walks:
- Dress in layers, including a hat and gloves. You’ve heard the adage: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Dressing smart in winter means layers. Once you get moving, your body will heat up. You don’t want to overheat and do a lot of sweating, because hot, sweaty clothes eventually become cold, wet clothes. As you walk, monitor your temperature. Getting a little warm? Shed your hat or gloves, maybe unzip your coat to dump some heat. Cooling off? Zip up your coat and put your hat back on. You may find yourself constantly adjusting your clothing in response to your temperature, which is a great way to keep from getting all hot and sweaty.
- Wear thick socks and warm footwear with good traction. Very little in life is fun if your feet are cold and wet! Make sure your shoes have good treads to help you cope with slippery spots.
- Watch out for ice. Take it easy if the conditions are slippery—or skip your walk for a better day. Consider getting an inexpensive pair of hiking poles; they can help your stability if you do encounter ice or snow.
- No need to rush. Exercising in cold weather is a little more work for your body, so take it easy until you know your limits. And to help avoid injury, be sure to start out slow to give your muscles and joints a chance to warm up.
- Take a look around. The world looks so different in winter. Make a point to savor the beauty of a snow-covered field, the twinkling of ice on the tree branches, the bright red of a cardinal at a bird feeder.
- Walk with a friend. Walking outside is a perfect socially distant way to catch up with a buddy. Make it a weekly walking date!
- Don’t forget the sunscreen—and the water. You can still get too much sun in the winter, so dab some sunscreen on your exposed skin. And even if you’re not sweating a lot, you’ll still lose moisture as you breathe.
- Stay safe. Since winter days are shorter, you could find yourself out after dark. Plan ahead and make sure you’re wearing something reflective—even just a strip of low-cost reflective tape will help. And just in case, bring along your cell phone and a form of identification.
- Keep an eye on the temperature. Sometimes it’s just too cold to be outside for long periods of time. If you develop bright red, very cold, tingly skin, cover up and get inside.
- Vary your route. If you tend to stick to your everyday neighborhood walking loop, try changing it up: Oakside Park in Biglerville has great walking paths. So does the Rec Park in Gettysburg. Healthy Adams County’s Physical Fitness Task Force offers a series of guided winter hikes for all fitness levels that give you an opportunity to explore hiking trails all over the county and beyond. Find their schedule at Facebook.com/HealthyAdamsCounty.
So try bundling up and taking a little stroll outside—it can be a great antidote to the winter blahs!
Chris Little has lived in Adams County since 2001 and enjoys walking and bicycling in our beautiful county. She lives with her husband Tom, is a HABPI board member, and serves in other county organizations.