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Walking in Winter


QUESTION:

I started walking in the spring and have been very successful with it. However, now that the weather is colder, I am not walking as much. Any suggestions?

ANSWER:

The colder weather and shorter days of winter can definitely put a damper on your walking program, but don't give up!  There are things that you can do to sidestep some of the challenges of winter.

First, dress appropriately.  You no longer have to look like a polar bear wrapped in puffy down clothes to brave the cold weather.  Technology has come a long way in regards to athletic wear.  Silky thermals with ventilation panels, quick drying micro-fleece, lightweight high-tech materials that keep you warm but wick away moisture (Thermax, Thinsulate, Polypropylene, etc.) and water resistant shells, such as those made with GoreTex, all make it easy to dress for exercise in the cold.  Remember to dress in layers that you can peel off if needed as you warm up.  The following three layers are usually sufficient: 1) a base layer to draw moisture away from skin, 2) a mid layer to provide warmth, and 3) an outer layer to protect against wind and rain.  Wear gloves and a hat to prevent frostbite on fingertips and to avoid loss of body heat through your head.

Don't forget safety.  The shorter winter days make it more difficult to walk during daylight.  If you have to walk in the early morning or during the evening, make sure that your gear is equipped with reflective materials.  Some workout clothing already comes with reflective piping (i.e., shoes, jackets, vests); however, adhering reflective tape to your outerwear is a cheap alternative.  Be aware of icy, slippery sections in your walking route and ensure that your walking shoes have good traction.  It's always a good idea to walk with others in case of a fall and to carry some pepper spray for added security, especially if walking at night.

Look for alternatives.  If you simply can't bear to face the cold, look for alternatives in your community for indoor walking.  Malls will often open early for walking groups.  Check out your local shopping malls and see if any programs are already in place.  If not, maybe you could start such an opportunity in your community.  The perimeters of supermarkets also offer a decent area in which you can walk, particularly during off peak shopping times such as the early morning.

Don't overlook the obvious.  Indoor treadmills, especially when used with walking videos, are a good alternative for those days that you simply can't get outside.  In addition, many fitness centers and gyms offer indoor walking tracks with handheld counters that help you keep track of your distance covered.

Although cold weather can be challenging, it can also be invigorating!  Approach the challenges from a perspective of managing them instead of letting them defeat your program.  Good luck!

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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.
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