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Exercise Outdoors This Winter

6 fun, outdoor fitness activities for snowy days
Written by 
Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
December 20, 2013

If you find your exercise motivation waning as the temperature drops in the winter, you’re not alone. People are as much as 40 percent more likely to exercise regularly in the summer than in the winter, according to a study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. While exercising outdoors in the winter will mean braving the elements, snow and ice offer a range of workout options that burn lots of calories, tone muscles and allow you to take in winter landscapes you only see once a year.

Cross Country Skiing

When done at the same intensity, this winter activity burns close to the same amount of calories as running, but without the high impact. Most of the heart-pumping effort comes from engaging the muscles in your legs and buttocks, but using poles to help propel you forward also recruits your arms, shoulders and back muscles for a full body workout. Ask your local sporting goods store or a downhill ski park about cross country ski rentals as well as tips on where to ski. You’ll want to find trails that have been “groomed,” meaning the snow has been packed down into smooth, glidable passageways. A tip so you don’t overheat even on the chilliest of days: Layer up as though it’s about 20 degrees warmer than it actually is.

“Wearing a heart rate monitor can help you make outdoor training specific to your goals. Try to reach intensities that are similar to what you would achieve during an indoor cardiovascular session, such as a treadmill run or exercise class."

Snowshoeing

An alternative to cross country skiing, snowshoes let you tackle your snowy backyard or neighborhood park without traveling to find groomed trails. That’s because the large clown-like contraptions that you strap onto athletic shoes or boots disperse your weight over a large area so you can walk across freshly fallen powder without sinking. Snowshoes are generally less expensive than cross country skis (which require boots and poles, in addition to the skis themselves), and you may also be able to rent them at a sporting goods store.

Downhill Skiing

A terrific workout that doesn’t feel like one, downhill skiing challenges your body from head to toe. That’s why you may not feel it while you’re out on the slopes, but you’ll definitely feel it tomorrow. In addition to targeting your quads and buttocks, muscles throughout your body—especially your abs and core—work hard to help you steer and stay upright on the bunny slope or the black diamond.

Ice Skating

Whether you’re channeling an Olympian figure skater as you twirl solo around the rink or doing laps hand in hand with your partner, ice skating is a quintessential winter pastime that doubles as a great cardio workout and muscle toner for your legs and core. Alternate between coasting and fast skating to maximize the heart-strengthening benefit.

Snow Running

Snow-covered streets and neighbors who don’t shovel their sidewalks don’t have to relegate you to the treadmill all winter long. Instead, outwit the slippery stuff by giving your running shoes the snow tire treatment. Products like Yaktrax and Microspikes affix (temporarily) onto the bottom of your shoes, covering your soles with grippy metal that provides traction on snow and ice. Just make sure to wear reflective apparel if you’re out before dawn or after dusk.

Sledding

Another workout in disguise, it’s easy to forget about the fitness benefits when you’re whizzing downhill. Still, all that hiking uphill to position your sled raises your heart rate for a powerful aerobic workout while strengthening your buttocks and leg muscles.

“Wearing a heart rate monitor can help you make outdoor training specific to your goals. Try to reach intensities that are similar to what you would achieve during an indoor cardiovascular session, such as a treadmill run or exercise class."
Reference(s) 
Compendium of Physical Activities Tracking Guide
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (June 1993)
About the author 
Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie is a Syracuse, NY–based health and fitness writer, an American Council on Exercise–certified personal trainer and the author of Tone Every Inch (Rodale).