If getting into shape is on your New Year’s resolution list but you are not interested in navigating jam-packed gyms, take your exercise regime out of the gym and into the great outdoors.
“A common misconception is that you have to stop your outdoor exercise in cold winter weather,” Karin Richards, director of the fitness and health management program and the Health Sciences Program at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, said. “While exercising in the cold may take some getting used to, with the right precautions and preparation, it can be a great boredom buster.”
To be sure you are safely working toward your goals and getting the most out of your outdoor exercise this winter, Richards has provided a few tips.
As with any physical activity, it is important to take time to warm up before exercising. While a typical warm up lasts 5 to10 minutes, when exercising in cold weather, a proper warm up should be stretched to last at least 20 minutes.
Dressing appropriately for the weather is especially important, as our bodies lose heat quicker when we are cold and up to 25 times quicker when we are wet. Exercisers are encouraged to wear a scarf to protect the mouth and throat, a hat to hold in body heat, sunglasses if it is sunny and especially when it is snowy to protect from glare and gloves or mittens.
Additionally, there are three essential layers that should be worn on the body. The first is a wicking layer, such as dry fit material or polyester, which rests against bare skin and draws away moisture. The second is an insulating layer, usually made of cotton. The third layer is a shield against elements such as wind, rain or snow. The layer is usually a repellant jacket that will keep the body dry.
It is crucial to stretch after exercising outside and to hold each stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds. While it is also fine to stretch before exercising outside, you should never stretch cold muscles. Instead, stretch after a 20-minute warm up, when blood has had a chance to get to the muscles and warm them.
When you are outside breathing in cold air, your body dehydrates much quicker than normal. To counteract the potential for dehydration, it is essential to drink more water.
Before heading out the door for a workout, there are several environmental factors to consider.
“Aside from the temperature, you need to think about wind chill, as this has the power to decrease the temperature a great amount,” Richards said. “Many people don’t think about it, but when that wind chill hits your bare skin, it can be very painful. Also, the days are much shorter in the winter, so a 5 p.m. run will likely be much darker than what you’re used to and may require the use of reflective gear.”
If escaping from the gym is not enough of a motivator to exercise outdoors, the fresh air and vitamin D from the sun can help improve your mood and relieve stress. Additionally, you will generally get a greater workout outside, pounding the pavement and rugged terrain, than you will on a treadmill.