Like a hibernating bear in her den, you may be hiding from the winter weather in your warm home, enjoying the comforts of a fuzzy blanket and tea. There are few activities as cozy as sitting by the fire, watching the frigid snowscape outside though the window.
Unfortunately, we are not quite bears. To maintain health and wellness, we need regular activity--which is hard to do when, like bears, we want to eat rich foods and sleep through the season! Luckily, there is an easy solution: winter walking can wake us up and keep us fit, both mentally and physically. And the big bonus? Your fuzzy blanket will be even cozier when you get back home.
The best benefit of walking, at any time of year, is its accessibility. It requires no paid subscriptions and no fancy equipment--just a pair of terrain-appropriate shoes and a bit of time set aside.
If you regularly walk through the other seasons, winter walking is especially easy. Stay active by keeping up your usual routine, making only slight seasonal changes. You’ll also have the benefit of seeing your favorite routes from a new perspective.
Time Outside Promotes Wellness
Our homes are designed to be perfectly comfortable, with just the right temperature, plenty of soft things to sit on, and little noise (barring intrusions from the family!). However, to keep our minds sharp and our mood bright, time spent in nature--and maybe even felling a little uncomfortable--is essential.
A recent scientific report found that individuals who spend at least 120 minutes in nature each week report significantly better health and well-being. If you already enjoy time outside, these results likely make sense to you: you know the calming effect of a natural environment’s ambiance, the relief from a constantly pinging phone or email, and the joy you get from noticing interesting natural phenomena.
There are many benefits specific to spending time in winter landscapes, too. With no leaves, you’ll have an unobstructed view of wildlife, and when there’s snow you’ll be privy to a winter wonderland.
The cold air can also be a great wake-up call to sharpen the senses.
Walking is a Workout--and It’s Better in the Winter
Although there’s a popular belief that being cold burns more energy than being comfortable, the scientific evidence is mixed.
However, winter walking absolutely burns more calories--and fosters better agility and balance--because walking over snow and ice takes more effort. Appropriate footwear is essential to staying safe in these conditions, but once you’re outfitted properly, your regular walk-around-the-block can become a moderate-intensity activity. Strapping on snowshoes or cross-country skis takes this benefit even farther.
Monitor your exertion level and don’t overdo it; injury and fatigue are more dangerous when you’re stuck out in the cold. If you find yourself out of breath for long portions of your walk, ease up until you’re able to speak comfortably. For a more intense workout, continue to cycle through intervals of breathlessness and control. Otherwise, stay in the zone where you can speak, but singing may be a bit difficult.
And be sure to follow the tips below to stay safe and get the most out of your winter walk:
Tips for Successful Winter Walking
Dress for the weather you’re walking in. Start with the layering basics: a wicking undershirt or thermal, a fleece or down midlayer, and a windbreaker or other water-resistant shell. Adjust these basics depending on conditions--add a midlayer if it’s cold, or choose a truly waterproof outer jacket if the day’s a bit soggy. Choose wool or synthetic fabrics and stay away from cotton. When you first step outside, you should feel a bit cold; the walking will warm you up to a comfortable temperature, and you can shed layers as you go if needed.
Choose boots with tread, traction and waterproofing
Routes can be icy and uneven in the winter months. That’s why it’s important to choose shoes with a decent tread and some ankle support--look for snow or hiking boots and you should be set. Waterproofing is also important to comfortably get you through snow, slush and ice. Even if it’s too cold out for the snow to actually get your boots wet on the walk, remember that it is going to melt once you bring them inside! We also recommend traction devices such as Yaktrax or Microspikes whenever you’re walking over ice.
Sun protection is an important part of outdoor recreation, even in the winter. Take particular care when there is snow on the ground: the reflection of sunlight from the snow puts walkers at risk of snow-blindness or unusual sunburns. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, and be sure to apply sunscreen to the underside of your chin and nose to protect against reflected light.
Drink water and stretch
The lower perceived exertion from walking in the cold means that our bodies might not tell us what they need in a way we expect. Despite not sweating, you’ll still need plenty of water and a good stretch both before and after your walk.