Become a Winter Walker-New Strategies
Walking is a great form of exercise. It’s easy and pretty much free. But when winter rolls around in the Midwest my walking goes from an enjoyable outdoor activity to a dreaded, “barely get the minimum number of minutes on the treadmill”, indoor activity. I know, I can watch TV while on the Treadmill but I still don’t really enjoy it or push myself. In the past I drew the line at 50 degrees or above for an outdoor walk, maybe 45 degrees if it was sunny and I had friend to walk with.
This winter I’m trying to become a winter walker. I really want the benefits of the outdoor walk vs the treadmill and also the benefits of being outdoors in the daylight/sunlight (I have to say daylight because most of the last month has been cloudy in my area). I can’t give you the science on the benefits of being outdoors but I know I feel better. I have read articles about winter walking and received well meaning advice dealing with cold but until this winter, I was never able to get out there. My Minnesota born and raised husband offers this, “cold is just a state of mind”. Thanks honey. Some people (ahem) are just able to make more body heat and/or tolerate cold better than others. I am in the “others” category, so doing anything outdoors in the winter is a big challenge for me.
Here are some tips and things that have enabled me to walk outdoors this winter:
- Check the weather, not just the temperature. Humidity, wind speed, sunshine and temperature combine to create outdoor conditions. I used to just look at the outside temperature and decide not to go outside. Now I also consider the wind speed almost before the temperature. Wind can make a warm day cold and lack of wind can make a cold day quite tolerable.
- Dress for cold. Common sense, right? You can get some thermal under layers or just buy a larger pair of jeans and wear yoga pants or even flannel pajamas underneath. I’ve also worn a huge pair of sweat pants over my jeans. It works though I’m not the neighborhood fashion statement. That is not a problem since I also wear either a buff or a full hood with just the face open. No one will recognize me. I also wear a knit hat over the buff or hood and a hooded jacket with the hood up and a turtleneck. I think being able to keep my head/neck/face warm was what enabled me to venture outside. When it isn’t as cold I wear thermal headband with a jacket hood. Yes, this does a number on any hair style you might have, but do you want a nice hair style or a fit body? A long hooded jacket that covers your hips is very helpful. If there is a wind, consider a wind layer. I have a men’s rain suit large enough to go over other layers and it helps cut the wind and keep heat in. Seriously, the neighbors won’t recognize you! Try throwing your clothes in the dryer before you put them on. The heat doesn’t last but it’s a nice psychological boost.
- Add hand warmers or a rice wrap (it isn’t cheating). Wear mittens (or even socks) over gloves. Still have those leg warmers from the 80’s? They are making a come back and that is another layer you could add. Find instructions for homemade reusable hand warmers here.
- Change your route and schedule. It seems like common sense to walk later in the day during the winter as it is usually (not always) warmer but if you work during the day that might mean a lunch time walk. It is a challenge when the days are so short but it is usually warmer at 5:30 in the evening than at 5:30 in the morning. I find it quite hard to get out the door in the afternoon. I recommend putting on your first layer of exercise clothes early in the day if you can. When the temperatures warm up, oh look, I already have my exercise clothes on, I guess I’ll just add some layers and go outside. Changing your route can mean walking where there are more street lights (as opposed to a park or trail) or finding a route that might be more sheltered from the wind or more sunny/less shaded. You might want to walk where there are businesses so you can duck in to warm up and make any necessary adjustments in clothing.
- Warm up a little indoors. This is a little crazy but the part I hate the most about exercising in the cold is the time it takes to warm up. I hate being cold for those first 10 to 15 minutes. If I dress for the first 10 minutes, then I’m over heated and sweating for the rest of the walk. Sweat can chill you so don’t warm up enough to sweat. Just move around a little indoors until you feel like you want to unzip that coat! If you don’t mind being cold for the first 10 minutes, nevermind.
- Go for a short test walk. Go up and down block to see if you have dressed appropriately. If there is wind, be sure to try walking into and with the wind-it can make a big difference. Keep in mind you will warm up some but you shouldn’t be miserable right out the door.
A few final thoughts, take your phone (just in case) some lip balm and tissues. Think about how many more days you could walk outside if you could walk in colder temperatures. So far this winter, the coldest temperature I’ve walked in is 11 degrees. I was surprisingly comfortable and Mr. Minnesota is so proud of me!