Ah, winter. The time when millions of people around the world experience the joys of frigid temperatures and white-out snow days. When you’re cuddled around the fire with a warm cup of coffee and snow falling gently outside, going on a walk is probably the last thing on your mind.
The truth is, taking a daily walk is one of the best things you can do to stave off those winter pounds and keep your physical health in tip-top shape — even when it’s freezing. Here are a few additional benefits of winter walking (on top of the regular benefits) and a few tips to stay safe and warm on your frosty stroll.
With the proper layers and preparation, you’ll start to look forward to your winter walk in no time!
Benefits of winter walking
Improves muscle health
Winter ground certainly challenges those balance and stability muscles. Uneven terrain activates little-used muscles in your legs and core that will help you perform better during other workouts and everyday activities such as lifting and squatting.
Burns more calories
Have you ever felt exhausted after walking just a few hundred feet in the snow and wind? A study in the American Journal of Human Biology found that people burn 34% more calories when hiking in cold weather than in warm. Maximize the weight-loss benefits of your daily walk by heading outdoors even in chilly weather.
Boosts vitamin D
In all but the warmest, sunniest places in the world, vitamin D levels fall for most people in the wintertime. Less time with skin exposed to the sun and weaker UVB rays all increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Getting outdoors and going for a walk, even on days when the winter sun is only weakly shining, can still be beneficial and could boost your vitamin D levels, depending on where you live.
There’s just something so refreshing about a brisk winter stroll. Fresh, cold air, sunshine, and good company work together to improve your mood, clear your mind, and reduce stress. There is even evidence to suggest that winter walks can decrease the depressive symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) by 50 percent.
Winter Walking Tips
Dress for the weather
If you live in a cold climate, your winter walking gear will look different from your summer workout clothes. Depending on the weather, consider layering and wearing a water and wind-resistant winter jacket to keep out the damp, chilly air.
You can remove layers if you get hot while walking. Stay away from cotton clothing. It absorbs sweat and makes you wet and cold, increasing your risk of hypothermia. Most cotton is made from GMO cotton and poses a toxic risk to your body.
While warming up with a cup of tea and a nice hot bath after a winter walk is ideal, it’s even more important to warm up before you head out. Before putting on all your layers, do a few jumping jacks, squats, or run or march to get your heart rate up. Spending a few minutes warming up is well worth the extra effort.
It increases your core body temperature, gets your blood pumping, and helps warm up muscles — reducing the risk of injury. It also improves coordination and keeps you on your feet in slippery conditions.
Wear the right shoes and socks
Your average workout or walking shoes probably aren’t the best for winter weather. If there’s snow and ice on your path, you’ll want to wear shoes with extra traction and padding designed to withstand colder temperatures and uneven terrain.
If there’s no snow, but the weather is just a little bit chilly, you might be able to make it in standard tennis shoes. Either way, wear organic wool socks to keep your feet warm and dry.
Choose the right time of day
Though early-morning or evening walks are a great option in the heat of the summer, these are not the best hours for your winter walk. Avoid walking in the dark, if possible, as many hazards, like ice, are hard to see at night. Try walking in the afternoon whenever possible. This is the warmest part of the day and is usually the best time to get vitamin D.
Try going for a brisk walk on your lunch break if you go to work and get home in the dark.
Bring a friend
While finding a walking friend is always a good idea, as the companionship improves mental health and well-being, there are even more practical benefits to walking with a buddy in the wintertime.
Depending on where you live, your walking paths may become treacherous in the winter months. This is especially true with remote areas like large parks, wooded walking trails, or hikes. If you’re going off the beaten path, or if the beaten path is just a little dicey, bring a friend along.
You can also provide mutual motivation and help keep each other on a good winter walking schedule.
Get into a good routine
Getting into a walking routine in the warmer months is easy. The weather is nice, it’s sunny, and the daylight hours are longer. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case in the winter.
The best way to unlock that winter walking motivation is to get out and do it daily. Unless the weather is unsafe to walk in, bundle up, get outside, and just walk. Soon, you’ll look forward to your daily outdoor activity and won’t want to miss a day.
Dehydration isn’t just a threat in the hot months of summer. A study from the University of New Hampshire found that your chance of dehydration increases during the winter. You don’t get as hot, and your sweat evaporates quickly in the cold air. Plus, many people don’t like drinking cold water when the air is chilly and reach for a warm, usually dehydrating, beverage instead.
While there’s nothing wrong with a cup of hot coffee, it can dehydrate you, especially if you haven’t had enough water. Make sure to drink plenty of clean, filtered water before heading out on your winter walk — even if you don’t feel thirsty.
Know when to stay inside
We are all about fresh air and sunshine here at NHD. However, some days, it isn’t safe to go outside. For the most part, it’s just a matter of dressing appropriately. But some temperatures increase your chances of frostbite and other cold-related complications.
Experts recommend avoiding walking outdoors when the temperature is below -10 degrees Fahrenheit. When this happens, do an indoor workout or walk at an indoor shopping mall or track.
Plan your route
It’s easy for simple tasks to go south in wintry weather. Landmarks are covered in snow, the trees are bare, and you can get turned around in seconds if you lose your path. Don’t wander too far from populated areas without a companion or emergency equipment; always prepare your route in advance.
While winter hiking can be fun and has many health benefits, getting caught unprepared could mean hypothermia or frostbite. Stick to familiar, well-maintained trails in inclement weather.
Consider walking poles
An inexpensive pair of trekking or walking poles can be a winter walking game changer. If you live somewhere the sidewalks are covered in snow or ice most of the winter, investing in a pair of poles can help keep you stable and allow you to safely enjoy the outdoors without fear of falling.
This is especially important if you are recovering from an injury or struggle with balance issues.
Take your winter walk to the next level with snowshoeing. Of course, the accessibility of snowshoe paths will vary depending on your location. However, if you live near areas that receive a lot of snow, check local state parks or trailheads to see if any snowshoe paths are available.
Many ski resorts also have excellent snowshoeing opportunities. You don’t have to have experience; you can rent or buy snowshoes from many outfitters for a reasonable price.
Walking outdoors isn’t just for those rare days with clear skies and perfect temperatures — it is one of the best things you can do to protect your heart and mind and should be part of your daily routine. Don’t wait for warmer temperatures to start developing good habits — go on a 30-minute walk today and every day.
If you need further health advice, don’t hesitate to contact one of our licensed practitioners to make an appointment. Any of them would love to work with you to help you achieve your 100 Year Heart.
Eat well, Live well, Think well
Medical Review: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD 2022