By late autumn, most northern regions of the U.S. have seen the last of any summer-like temperatures forcing outdoor exercise enthusiasts to alter their routines for colder weather. Between holiday indulgences and lack of regular activity, Americans put on one to eight pounds during the winter solstice.
But rather than hibernate and risk months of reduced physical and mental health, you can continue cold-weather workouts with these tips and tricks from the experts.
Biking Basics for Wild Weather
Here in northern Illinois, we had a rare seasonal treat, with five of the first nine days in November reaching highs in the 70s. This trend ended on Thursday, November 10th, with a forecasted record high of 76 degrees.
By Saturday the 12th, the high was only 35 degrees. Not even a week later, there was sticking snow on the ground, dashing my hopes for continuing my favorite outdoor exercise, biking. While I am still hoping for a few more opportunities to ride before the year ends, adaptation and creativity are crucial to my outdoor workouts for the time being.
Since I struggle with sinus issues, outdoor biking in temperatures less than 40 degrees is not a good idea; however, as long as the pavement is clear and I dress warmly, in past years, I have been able to bike into December. My cold-weather biking ensemble includes the following: a base layer of a t-shirt and fleece leggings, followed by an outer layer of a neoprene-type jacket with a hood, a knit cap, a breathable scarf, and touchscreen-friendly gloves.
The neoprene jacket is critical to cut down on wind and any light rain you may encounter, while the knit cap and hood conserve body heat. A Chenille-type scarf works best for warmth, softness, and breathability. Touch-screen gloves are necessary if you listen to music during your workout or track your progress on an app like Strava.
I’ve recently added a nasal spray to enhance the comfort of my cold-weather biking. I use Azelastine a few minutes before going outside, which helps to prevent a runny nose. Azelastine, which used to be available by prescription, is now available over the counter under the brand name Astepro. This nasal spray is another way to protect against my susceptibility to cold air-induced sinus infections.
While the start of an outdoor bike ride in cold weather can be pretty uncomfortable, the ride’s intensity will soon have you warmed up, if not sweaty, by completion. That’s why it’s essential to change out any wet clothing as soon as you finish your ride. This tip can help you avoid getting sick or creating skin issues due to sweating in cold weather.
Once the winter weather makes it impossible to bike, I will have to consider other forms of outdoor cold-weather exercise and defer to local hiking expert Tony Bove. When he’s not managing his family’s automotive repair business, Bove can be found hiking state parks and forest preserves near and far.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned in all my years of hiking is that you have to have the right clothes for the right weather,” he said. “In the summertime, moisture-wicking clothes help to keep you cool, while during winter, dressing in layers helps to keep you warm.”
Bove warns against bundling up too much in the winter. “To keep your body from sweating in the winter, you actually have to stay a little bit cold. If you get overheated and start to sweat, then you could end up freezing.”
In addition to appropriate hiking clothes, Bove is a big fan of trail runner shoes, hiking socks, microspikes, and hiking poles. ” Smartwool socks help get the sweat away from your feet, and I also like to wear trail-runner shoes year-round because they breathe well and help wick water away from your feet. Traditional leather hiking boots are almost a thing of the past because trail runner shoes provide better cushioning comfort and traction.”
Bove also finds microspikes and hiking poles useful for venturing out in winter weather. “I use microspikes and hiking poles to negotiate the ice and snow. Hiking poles are helpful for going up and downhill in the snow. They keep the weight off your knees and provide a four-point landing instead of stressing your legs.”
Biking or walking on paved roads or paths can also present a challenge in the late fall and winter. Fallen leaves in the roadway can hide potholes, rocks, and small branches, which can cause a biking accident or a sprained ankle. Walking or biking along a wooded area in the fall can be visually pleasing but physically dangerous. Wet pavement can be treacherous and disguise patches of black ice.
A well-stocked backpack for hiking is as crucial as wearing the proper clothing. Since you never know what you will encounter along your hike, being prepared is the best way to ensure a stress-free hike.
Savoring Solitude or Craving Camaraderie
Though Bove is a member of the Forest Trails Hiking Club, which meets weekly for day hikes, he also loves to hike alone. “My longest day hike was 33 miles along the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin, which is a 1200-mile trail that I am hoping to complete in the future.
“The highlight of last summer was a 95-mile backpacking trip at Isle Royale National Park, surrounded by Lake Superior in Michigan. My best hiking experience is being alone on the trail. The solitude, listening to nature, and walking in those surroundings is what I enjoy most.”
If you need the motivation to stick with cold weather exercise, consider joining an outdoor adventuring group. “Essentially, we sell fun for a living,” said Kevin Versino, a manager at Rocktown Adventures.
“Our first rule of business is to make our customers smile or laugh.” Versino accomplishes that by challenging his patrons’ attitudes on cold-weather workouts.
“When I teach skiing classes, I’ll ask the group what motivates them to come out in the cold. Most people say they appreciate the camaraderie of others and are looking to learn a new activity,” he said. “I find that if you don’t find joy in the snow, you’ll have less joy but the same amount of snow.”
Staying Safe in the Cold
Rocktown Adventures offers a wide variety of outdoor equipment, rentals, lessons, and events, from paddlesports in the summer to snowsports in the winter.
“We will have kayaking trips through the end of October, but the metric we use for safe paddlesports is that the combined air and water temperatures must be at least 120 degrees. Going below that threshold has safety risks,” Versino said.
“The one-ten-one rule in paddlesports is another vital guideline. If you fall into frigid water, you stay in the water for one minute to let your body adjust. You then have 10 minutes to get out of the water and one hour to get into dry clothes before you risk the onset of hypothermia,” he explained.
Versino said that Rocktown Adventures’ primary focus in the winter is on the “silent sports” of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. “The quiet aspects of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing complement the social and educational components of the sports as people participate in group lessons.
The advantages of taking a wintersports class are learning from others’ experiences, understanding the proper techniques of skiing or snowshoeing, and discovering different places to use those skills. Our snow sports are also an excellent way to inspire people to get outside, live a healthier lifestyle, and explore the fabulous natural resources of our region.”
Though it takes more time to plan an outdoor winter workout than it does to head outside for a hike or bike in the summer, the physical and mental benefits of outdoor activity in the winter will surely help stave off cabin fever and winter weight gain.
Bove offers some final words of encouragement. “Between rain and snow, everybody is scared of the elements, but with some good equipment and planning, you can enjoy the outdoors despite the weather. The main thing is to get out there and enjoy it.”