Warm up to winter walking 

Warm up to winter walking 

When the weather outside is downright frightful, it doesn’t mean you have to give up a walk outdoors.  Maybe a brisk wintry walk may not be your idea of fun but if done correctly, it can be a very enjoyable and invigorating form of exercise.  Of course you can always walk indoors but think of all the beautiful sights and sounds the winter season has to offer you miss out on.  The fresh crisp cold air is perfect for clearing your mind and for reducing stress.  While windy days may not be inviting to spend time outdoors in, think of it in this way - trudging through snow or wind burns lots of calories resulting in reaching and maintaining a healthier body weight. 

There are ways to make winter walking work on most days of this season. All it takes is some strategic planning of what to wear and how to contend with downright chilly weather while keeping you warm and dry when it’s cold and wet outside.

1.  Layer up

Layering is a must for keeping your body warm when working out in cold weather.  Have a base layer next to your skin to wick away moisture.  Yes, even on cold wintry days, you will sweat.  Avoid cotton or wool as they will stay wet keeping your cold and uncomfortable.  Instead choose a base layer shirt and longjohns made of polypropylene (Capilene, Thermion, Thermax and Thermastat) or silk. 

 Boyfriend and girlfriend walking in the park on a beautiful Winter day

Your next layer should be an insulating layer to provide warmth but one you can take off if you get overheated.  This could be a wool shirt or vest but other fabric options could be polyester fleece, pile, or down when it is very cold outside. 

The outer layer is what will protect you from whipping winds and icy rain.  Choose a wind-proof and water-resistant coat to keep cold air out. 

2.  Other necessary garments

Don’t leave the house without your gloves or mittens.  A thin, moisture-wicking pair of gloves underneath heavier mittens or gloves will protect hands and fingers from frostbite.

Some type of a scarf or neck gaiter is also an absolute must to muffle any cold air from finding itself going down the front or back of your neck.

Do not forget to cover your head to insulate it and to retain heat.

3.   Proper footwear

Our feet are another area of the body that must have proper protection during a winter walk protecting against frostbite.  Starting with the socks, wear sweat-wicking polypropylene thin socks with an outer wool sock.  If it is particularly cold, throw in some single-use toe warmers to provide gentle heat for up to six hours.  Shoes should be made of leather to keep out the wind and cold yet flexible enough for getting in a good walking heel-to-toe roll.  Boots that are too rigid can give you shin splints and foot pain.

4.   Warm up indoors before heading outdoors

If you go straight into the great outdoors without warming up first indoors, it can be an unpleasant shock to your system.  When we are indoors and relatively inactive, blood flow primarily goes to our internal organs.  As we become more mobile, blood flow will be diverted to the muscles in our legs and arms along with our heart rate increasing.  To prevent that cold blast of wintry air from discouraging you on venturing outdoors for a walk, warm up first indoors. Walk around your house, climb stairs or march in place to get your blood flowing warming you up and getting you ready to walk outdoors.

5.   Other essential necessities making winter walking more enjoyable

It’s the little things that matter in making a winter walk enjoyable - such as taking along chapstick and sunscreen to protect your lips and skin.  Start off by walking at a moderate pace to warm up before switching to a faster pace.  Take along a water bottle drinking about 8 ounces every 15-30 minutes while walking to prevent dehydration.

6.   Stay safe

There will be times when it is just too cold to be or stay safe outdoors during the winter.  Watch the weather forecast and when there are wind chill advisories, frigid temperatures or icy conditions, take your walking workout to the gym or an indoor mall.  Be mindful of being careful when walking outdoors at dawn or at night.  Wear reflective gear so motorists can see you. 

Anyone who has heart issues, asthma, or Raynaud’s Disease should consult with their doctor before exercising outdoors during the winter in cold winter weather. 

7.  When walking, keep feet slightly apart

Placing your feet a little more than hips width apart will give you better support and balance in better control in case you hit a slick spot.  When going down an incline, consider turning sideways.  Avoid crossing one foot over the other as this provides no balance while your feet are crossed.  If the incline is steep, keep your knees bent.   

8.  Keep hydrated

Staying hydrated in winter is just as important as in the summer so be sure to bring along water. 

9.  Walk with a friend

Invite a friend, co-worker or grab your dog and set out to take a brisk walk together. Bringing along company on your wintry excursion can be more enjoyable by the mental stimulation it provides making the time go by much quicker.

10.  Reward yourself

Once you reach back home, reward yourself for taking the initiative to brave the cold to keep your body fit.  Relax your muscles by taking a long, warm bath chasing away the chill or savor a warm mug of hot tea or cocoa.  You will feel fantastic making you want to do it again tomorrow.