Be physically active all year round
Anne Pistawka, CEP
Getting outside is fun--even in winter! With a little planning and preparation, you can still enjoy the great outdoors.
Have you noticed that your exercise routine gets harder to maintain as the days get shorter and temperatures drop lower? Avoiding the cold in the Canadian winter can mean drastically reducing your exercise options.
For Canadians, getting caught with no plan to stay active throughout the winter season is common. The Community Health Survey reports that Canadians’ daily energy expenditure is 31 percent higher in summer than in winter, and participation in leisure time activity is twice as likely in summer. Combined with the holiday season and the tendency to overindulge in foods that are part of celebrations, this means that extra weight can easily creep on during winter months.
European researchers undertook a study of 100,000 people who share the Canadian winter experience and report that risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure, waist circumference, and cholesterol levels surge higher in winter. Keeping up physical activity all year round can positively affect these serious seasonal variations.
Planning and preparation
Canadian winters can bring dark, cold, wet, and icy conditions. Fortunately, planning and preparation for the challenges winter brings can help combat these barriers to activity. Here are some tips for planning activity and exercise, staying safe and comfortable, and embracing the season by taking advantage of new opportunities that WINTER brings.
Staying warm can be a challenge when temperatures drop, winds howl, and snow or rain starts to fall. Whether walking, running, skiing, skating, or biking in the winter months, being warm means staying comfortable and safe.
Hypothermia can be a threat if we’re not properly prepared when exposed to wet and cold conditions. Be aware of the signs of frostbite (white or grey skin) and hypothermia (cold or pale skin, uncontrollable shivering, and stumbling).
Ice on roads, sidewalks, and paths can make for treacherous conditions, seriously jeopardizing safety while walking, jogging, or hiking outside. Using shoe sole treads made of rubber blends and metal coils on boots or shoes can increase traction on snow and ice.
For added stability, try walking poles or ski poles. Getting into a rhythm using poles can increase your workout effort while also making you safer in slippery conditions. Wearing reflective outer clothing and light strobes can help alert drivers of your presence, especially on dull grey days.
In extreme weather, exercising indoors may be the safest bet until conditions get better. Consider dropping in at a local gym or walking indoors at a local track or mall. Recreation centres offer beginner programs in yoga, tai chi, and fitness classes as well as sport leagues. Learning to swim or joining a masters’ swim club can be an excellent way to stay fit and warm in the winter. New activities can provide social interactions, fun, and help to counteract the winter blues.
Exercising outdoors after a blanket of fresh snow has fallen can give us a sense of quiet calm and keep us in touch with the wonders and beauty of nature. Don’t forget the benefits that come from breathing fresh air outside. This can be a welcome contrast to the recycled air we breathe while indoors throughout most of the winter.
Studies about the psychological benefits of exercising outdoors versus indoors suggest that exercising outdoors is associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement; decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression; and increased energy. These are all great reasons to plan ahead for exercise and activity outside during the winter months.
Advances in the technology of outdoor gear mean that staying warm, safe, and comfortable is much easier than it once was. Clothing that incorporates wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers is better at holding body heat than cotton.
These fabrics are designed to wick sweat away from the skin into the outer layer of the fabric, helping you to stay dry and better insulated. A waterproof, breathable outer shell can minimize wind chill and keep you dry.
Our attitudes about winter can have a big impact on how we behave during these months. Do we react by shying away from being outside or do we embrace the elements and plan for continued activity throughout the season?
Accepting our Canadian climate and focusing on the beauty of the season can help get us through the long winter. New opportunities such as snowshoeing, hiking, or cross-country skiing are plentiful.
Clubs welcome new members and often have equipment to try for beginners. The social benefits of linking up with others for activity can have a motivating effect. This also applies to having an exercise partner who shares the same commitment and goals for activity as you do.
Look out for winter festivals in your community as well, and join in to celebrate the season.
Restoring does not mean retiring to inactivity. Seasonal change can bring renewal, especially if it involves staying active. Winter can be a time to switch gears and focus on maintaining fitness levels achieved throughout the summer so we can jump back into spring activities that we enjoy.
Using different muscles in a variety of activities throughout the year is a good way to minimize the risk of strain or repetitive injuries. The change in routine can have a restorative effect for both mind and body.
Benefits of keeping active
Committing to an active lifestyle for healthy mind and body year round can be a challenge in our Canadian climate. But the benefits are worth it. Active people often enjoy better sleep and a more positive outlook on life. Keeping active can also have a significant impact on preventing and managing heart disease.
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for adults recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity a week. This means working at a level where heart rate and breathing rate are elevated, while still being able to talk and comfortably sustain the activity for at least 10 minutes at a time.
The challenges that Canadian winters bring to achieving recommended amounts of physical activity can be overcome with commitment and planning, and most importantly, embracing the opportunities that winter has to offer.
Be COLD smart