The colder weather and shorter days of winter can put a damper on your walking program, but don't give up! 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 efforts.
Dress for success.
Technology has come a long way with what used to be bulky, winter 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) and water resistant shells, such as those made with GoreTex, all make it easy to dress for exercise in the cold.
Dress in layers that you can peel off as you warm up if needed. The following three layers are usually sufficient: 1) a base layer to draw moisture away from skin, 2) a middle layer to provide warmth, and 3) an outer layer to protect against wind and rain. Wear gloves to prevent frostbite on fingertips, and wear a hat to avoid losing body heat through your head.
Don’t ignore the sun.
Don’t skimp on sun protection just because it’s cloudy and cold. Continue to apply sunscreen with at least 15 SPF, wear a lip balm with sunscreen, wear a hat to protect your head, and consider sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare of a bright winter’s day.
You may not sweat as much during winter workouts as you do on hot, humid days, but winter exercise still causes dehydration. Drink fluids regularly to stay hydrated and to maintain your exercise performance. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults aim to drink around 0.4 to 0.8 liters of fluid per hour during exercise.
Stay safe at all hours.
The shorter winter days make it more difficult to walk during daylight. If you have to walk in the early morning or evening, make sure that your gear is equipped with reflective materials. Some workout clothing has reflective piping, but adhering reflective tape to your outerwear is an inexpensive alternative. Carry your cell phone and a form of identification. Walk with others whenever possible. Always let someone know when and where you are going, and how long you will be gone.
Be aware of road conditions.
The worst part of winter walking is often the condition of your walking path. Keep your eyes on the road to watch for slippery icy patches. If you need new walking shoes, now is the time to get them. A newer pair will provide better traction.
Know the danger signs.
In addition to the danger of falls from icy conditions, frostbite is another risk of exercising in cold weather. Frostbite starts as frostnip where the skin turns bright red, is very cold, and may tingle. Small exposed areas such as fingers, toes, ears and the nose are the most susceptible. Ignoring these symptoms can lead to superficial frostbite where the skin turns white and damage can begin to occur. Cover all exposed skin and take care to get inside if frostbite symptoms begin.
Assess your indoor options.
When it’s simply too cold, look for indoor walking options in your community. Shopping malls often open early to allow walkers to exercise. The perimeters of supermarkets also offer a sufficient walking area. If a treadmill is your only option, plan your workout during your favorite television show, and use interval training with speed and inclines to make the session less monotonous. Walking videos are a great option for at-home workouts.
Consider other activities.
While you may love walking, winter can provide the perfect opportunity to try something new. Now you can take advantage of the muscle conditioning class at the gym, try indoor cycling, or sign up for dance lessons.