Why you should exercise outside in winter
Plummeting temperatures, icy winds, and the fact that daylight disappears before the work day ends can make it difficult to get motivated to go outdoors for a workout, but a recent study shows that exercising in colder temperatures can help burn more calories. Simply existing in a cold environment is more energy demanding than being in a warm environment, says Cara Ocobock, PhD, an anthropologist at the University of Albany. Her study found that people who hike in temperatures of 15 to 23 degrees burn 34 percent more calories than those who hike in more comfortable (mid-50s) temperatures. While the subjects of the study carried backpacks and hiked in the Rockies, there are several cold-weather activities that deliver high-calorie burning results—as long as you follow the essential rules to exercising outdoors in winter.
Pristine snow covered trees, mountains, and lakes are all good reasons to go for a hike during the winter (along with less-crowded trails and the absence of bugs). While hiking on soft or compact snow requires more effort, it’s also one of the quickest ways to lose weight in cold temperatures. “During winter, you may be hiking on snow or the same trails used by skiers,” says Mike Bracko, a sports physiologist and skating coach. “It’s like walking or running in sand, and it is more difficult, so you are automatically burning more calories.” Hiking on uneven terrain has been shown to burn more calories; add hiking poles and you can burn even more. “Hiking with poles helps with stability and you burn more calories because you are using your arms,” says Bracko. Hiking is also good for your brain, and it can help improve mood, creativity, and memory.
The activity burns 45 percent more calories than walking or running at the same speed—anywhere from 400 to 700 calories per hour, depending on your weight. Add poles, take on hilly terrain, and venture off the trail into deep snow, and the intensity of the exercise and caloric burn increases. “It takes a lot to drag a snowshoe out of the deep snow,” says Lisa Milbrandt, an athletic trainer and fitness supervisor for UW Health, the integrated health system of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Snowshoeing also challenges the muscular-skeletal system in a different way than jogging or walking.” The lifting motion works the hip flexors and quadriceps more than regular walking. Beginners and those just starting an exercise program can use poles to help with balance, Milbrandt says. Using poles also works muscles in the arms, shoulders, and back. “With snowshoeing, you can get a good workout and still stay in a place that is safe,” she says. “And when you are comfortable with the sport, you can increase the duration or the intensity by heading off trail.” Try out this easy-to-learn sport at one of these destinations that are even better to visit in winter.