Author: Nadea S. Minet, MS, RD, LD Week of January 28, 2013 When the mercury starts to drop, so does our motivation to get up and get going.  Unfortunately, it is also this frigid time of year we instinctively want to pack in more calories, which makes sticking to an exercise plan even more critical. This is the time of year when many have moved their workout indoors in fear of frostbite or just because they hate the cold. I completely understand, but you can make outdoor workouts fun and it can actually help you adapt to the cold more effectively and even keep you healthy. Lets discuss some tips to stay warm and safe when exercising outdoors and describe some of the benefits of getting outdoors in the wintertime. So, exactly what are the benefits of getting outdoors in the wintertime?

First, exercising outside for 3 months of the year helps you to stay rather healthy. It may be healthier than heading into the gym with everyone else and finding yourself getting sick. The gym in the winter can be like a grade school playground or sitting in airplane; there are all these people with all these different germs floating around in a confined area. You may be more susceptible to getting sick.  Personally, I have not noticed this problem in an outdoor boot camp class. Second, research suggest your blood will thicken and your body will adapt better to the cold by being outdoors for 30-60 minutes a day. Many of us head inside when the temperature drops below 40°F and we don't come outside again until spring. Imagine, if you sit inside in a 70°F or warmer heated office all day long; of course you are going to be cold when you go outside. By exposing yourself to the cold, your body will adapt and make this time of the year more tolerable. Finally, believe it or not, it can be FUN outdoors in the wintertime. Making snow angels, building a snowman, sledding down the hill on a sled and having a snowball fight with your kids can be lots of fun, not to mention, a definite workout. Who says just because we are a few years older we have to go indoors and stop having fun? Get out there and enjoy yourself while burning lots of calories. Staying warm and dry while exercising in the cooler temperatures can be challenging.  While ice and snow can be treacherous, don’t let winter stop you from getting in your outdoor workouts.  Here are some tips to keep you warm and safe while you continue your workout through the winter months. Pick the Right Clothes During the dead of winter, your body is literally fighting the elements to stay warm; dressing accordingly and practicing a proper warm-up is even more important.  Staying dry is vital and quality apparel and equipment makes everything easier, especially in the winter. Clothes explicitly designed for cold weather wick away moisture from the body to keep you dry and warm. For the layer that goes against your skin look for “moisture wicking” on the label, as well as machine washable materials. Avoid 100% cotton; it holds sweat and can lead to chills, muscle tightness and discomfort. Think of it like a banana. You want to have layers that you can easily peel off and then put back on as your body’s temperature goes up and down. Wear Light Layers Layers are imperative because if you get too hot, you can take some things off to cool down. Over your long sleeve moisture-wicking shirt, wear a fleece or wool pullover for insulation. Add an outer layer that will repel water and block wind. Use Reflective Gear Since the days are shorter and it might be dark when you work out, make sure to wear easy-to-see colors and other reflective gear that can help drivers see you in the dark. There are reflective vests that are mesh which won’t add weight and bulk, but can be seen hundreds of feet away and offer 360° of visibility. If you prefer to bike, flashing lights connected to your bike are another way to gain more visibility and ensure you can be seen, even if you are working out in the dark. Cover Your Head and Ears The majority of heat escapes the body from the head. Hats can keep in heat; look for hats made with moisture-wicking materials so as not to keep your head too sweaty. Headbands that cover the ears are also a great way to keep your head warm, without getting too sweaty. Keep Hands and Feet Warm Protect your fingers and toes from frostbite by wearing thin gloves that can be layered inside heavier lined gloves or mittens. Thermal socks are another essential winter workout item and can keep your feet cozy. Have an Indoor AlternativeIn really nasty weather, bring your workout indoors. This is a great time to cross train and try a new activity. Many gyms offer memberships on a month-to-month basis, which is a good opportunity to try a new class, start a weight training routine or try something completely new.  Did someone say zumba?

Easing into cold-weather activities, paying attention to layering, consuming plenty of calories and fluids before, during, and after exercise, while taking extra time to warm-up are all crucial this time of year. It is also important to budget time for exercise and get-up earlier to fit in time at the gym or your outdoor workout. Although it can be tough getting up early when it is dark and cold, it will definitely feel worth it when you know you started your day out right, took care of your workout and continued on your way to Celebrating your weight loss success.