Walk away the winter blues
by Sandra Hartley, Ed.D.
Look out your window during the winter months. You may see people out there walking for health and fitness – are they crazy? What is healthy about freezing your feet off, breathing cold air, and possibly slipping on ice? The risks are clear; the benefits are not…right?
Research shows that winter is a key seasonal barrier to maintaining fitness for Canadians of all ages. Is it that important to overcome these winter constraints? Why not just take it easy until summer returns? Why mess with winter?
The answer is, if you cut back or quit being active in winter, you will lose momentum. You could get discouraged. Plus, your energy will wane and you have a tough time getting back on track.
Maintaining your hard-earned health and wellness is totally worth the struggle. Less sunshine, heavier meals, and less physical activity all lead to the ‘winter blahs’. Keeping active in winter will keep you feeling and doing better.
But we need to find safe ways to keep moving in winter. Walking outdoors in winter is a skill – don’t kid yourself that it is easy. And just like for winter sports, you need the proper equipment, especially when there is snow or ice on the ground.
Dress for comfort
- Dress warm from head to toe.
- A neck warmer or fleece scarf can be pulled up over your nose and mouth if the temperature is harsh.
- Ski goggles protect your eyes and improve your vision if the wind is chilly or snow is falling.
- Keep your walking gear together near the door, in a spot where it is easy to find and where it can dry out after each use.
- If you plan to be out an hour or more, pack a small backpack to hold your scarf, mittens, sun glasses, lip balm, water bottle. A snack bar might come in handy too.
Plan for safety
- If you are not able to clear your sidewalks yourself, make arrangements with a neighbour, friend, or family member to ensure they are safe for you.
- Choose a route that has fairly flat terrain. Walk on grass if the pavement is frosty.
- Do NOT leave the step of your home until you have good traction! Heavy tread on winter boots makes for good traction. So do snow cleats on the bottom of your boots, which you can purchased at a hardware stores. Use a ski pole (two are better) or walking sticks with ice picks at their ends.
- Walk in full daylight, or under well-lit streetlamps.
- Carry a head lamp for late afternoon walks.
- Carry a whistle in your pocket to blow, should you ever need help.
- Take your time and enjoy the world around you, but remember to keep your focus on your route and what is happening under your feet.
- Keep your knees supple and relaxed as you move forward. When it is slippery, take smaller steps.
- Walking with a friend adds interest and helps to keep you motivated.
- Enjoy the fact that you got out there!
If the outdoors is not your thing, consider walking ‘laps’ in a large shopping mall. You may be surprised that many older adults prefer this type of winter activity. So you may have lots of company, and a coffee shop is often the reward for a mall walking workout!
About the Author:
Sandra Hartley, Ed.D., Exercise Gerontology, Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta
10 Tips to STAYING Physically Active – Even in Winter
- Enjoy yourself! The perfect activity is that which is fun and enjoyable to you, and makes you forget about the fact that you are even exercising. If you are active, but aren’t enjoying it, it’s time to shop around for a more suitable activity.
- Everyone has good days and bad days. On the days that you feel sluggish, don’t set yourself up to fail. Try a little warm-up activity (stretching) and if you don’t feel any better soon after, leave it for that day. However, move more on the days when you feel great. Take advantage of any little surges of energy that you have and get moving!
- If winter is getting you down, dress for the weather. Put cleats on your boots, and carry ski poles for security on the snow and ice. Unless the weather is very bad, you will keep quite warm by moving, and the weather is not as bad as it looks once you get out there.
- If you do get “stuck” indoors, follow an exercise class on television, or make your own routine up to some of your favorite music. Walk “laps” in your residence, even if you feel a bit silly. Going up and down flights of stairs is very good for maintaining your fitness level. March or dance on the spot if you don’t have a lot of room to move in your apartment.
- Go to the local mall, church or school and walk “laps” indoors.
- Getting into the habit of exercising is good, but you can get bored from doing the same thing day after day. Try a different activity once in a while – most activity programs will let you try out the first class for free.
- If you have an arthritis flare-up, or a bad joint acts up, work around it and move all your good parts. There is no point in letting the rest of your body get laid up too!
- Reward yourself for being active. Set short and long term goals, and plan a “reward” for achieving that goal.
- Help someone else get started in active living. Ask a neighbour if they would join you for a walk. If all active seniors helped one inactive senior get started, about 80% of all older Canadians would be in great shape!
- If you have a health set-back, talk to your doctor about alternatives to medication. Perhaps a regular exercise session would be a better place to start addressing the problem (i.e. poor sleep, depression, aches and pains).