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Published on January 12, 2021

couple snowmobiling

Wake Up Your Workouts with Winter Outdoor Activities

Even when temperatures drop and the snow piles up, getting outside for walks, runs and even bike rides makes sense.

“The change of scenery – getting out of the gym – makes a big difference, no matter what you like doing in winter,” said Avera Sports Training Specialist Mark “Coach Rozy” Roozen. “Your body works harder in extremes of weather, including the cold. Temperature regulation leads to more calories burned, so even your regular walk in a winter wind with a little snow – a good way to diversify your workouts and activity.”

Don’t Overlook the Outdoors

The variables that come with day-to-day forecasts, along with exhilarating fresh air and changing scenery, can make any outdoor activity in winter an exciting challenge.

Outdoor exercise can:

  • Help release endorphins, the feel-good hormone
  • Increase serotonin, the mood-affecting hormone
  • Give you exposure to more natural light, boosting vitamin D

Light can help keep seasonal depression at bay and improve sleep. It also helps protect your body from disease.

“We often overlook the fun factor,” Roozen said. “Whether it’s broom ball, hockey, ice skating or a hike on snowy trails, if we’re doing something we enjoy, we’re more likely to keep doing it.”

Winter activities can be a good chance for the whole family to get out, too. When an activity is so fun you forget you’re working out – that’s a win.

Holistic Activities Help Us as a Whole

Calories burned, either by the mile or minute, is a common benchmark that measures activities and workouts. In winter, the additional weight of boots, layers, hats and gloves adds up.

“The benefits are many because we feel better when we’re outdoors, but we’re also giving our muscles a change, be it from the wind, the conditions of the road and temperature, or the layers and gear we need to keep warm,” Roozen said. “Changing up workouts is a good way to keep them from getting stale. But it requires planning for the challenges of winter.”

The brain work that goes with learning a new activity, such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or even something like running or hiking in colder weather – can burn more calories. Safety comes first, naturally, but the payoffs are many.

“Sometimes people think something like sledding is not exercise, but they certainly notice the soreness in their legs, shoulders and core the next day,” said Roozen. “It’s a lot like gardening, in that it might not seem like a lot of work, but do it for a few hours and you’ll certainly feel it.”

Keep this in mind with shoveling snow, too. It can be a back-breaker.

Keeping Fueled for Foul Weather

Even when it’s cold, our bodies need hydration. If you’re new to getting busy in the bold weather of winter, don’t assume the less-sweat factor of cooler workouts is not a factor: it is.

“In some ways, the demands of workouts in extremely hot or cold weather are similar, in that both burn more energy to regulate the body’s temperature,” said Anna Heronimus, RD, LN, registered dietitian with Avera Human Performance Center. “That work requires fluid intake to optimize it.”

The stress of a cold-weather workout can optimize your routine as well.

Snacks play a big role, too. Hikes, snowmobile trail explorations, cross-country skiing outings – any of them could go a little longer than planned. Pack along something to refill your body when you’re working so hard.

“Complex carbs two hours before you work out is always a good idea,” said Heronimus. “Try warm foods, like a good hot soup with lean meat, prior to your afternoon outdoors winter workout. Stash a nutrient-rich bar or two in your pockets before you go, so if you need it, you have it.”

Don’t Let the Cold Stop You

All the benefits that go with a good workout in winter can seem impossible because, let’s face it, when it gets chilly, not many humans really feel like going out into it.

“Lifelong learning can be a reward, and we see it in our athletes who make the adjustments to avoiding letting the calendar control their workouts,” said Roozen. “Layers of clothing can keep you moving. If you hate the cold, but you love the outdoors, layer up. Make the preparations needed. It can be a real mental-health booster.”

Remember those layers of clothes when you’re getting your plans in place.

Wintertime fun can be a family affair with a little planning.

“You learned to ride a bike as a kid, but you didn’t go on a 10-mile bike ride the next day,” Roozen said. “The same rules apply for you as you learn to ice skate, ski, snowshoe or hike in winter weather. Add it to your routine, learn as you go and don’t overdo it. Safety is always priority.”

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