6 secrets to making winter fitness fun

Don’t hide inside this winter’with these tricks, you’ll be craving the fresh, crisp outdoor air

Enjoy the outdoors

Winter can be a tough time of year to stay fit. As the frigid days turn into weeks, the weeks seem to turn into pounds. Many of us linger in the heated indoors, getting pasty from lack of sunshine, sometimes lethargic, often a tad moody.

But getting active in the outdoors doesn’t have to be a chore, even for those of us who dislike the cold. After years of winter-based complaints, I recently discovered this when I tried out some of my Christmas presents-a warm winter jacket, snowpants and a hat-and went outside; it was shocking the difference proper gear made. Though I’d had somewhat decent apparel before, the difference that December was I had vowed to stay active and have fun doing it for the sake of my two young girls. I was ready to look winter in the eye. So if this is your year to stay fit and have fun outside, here’s our list of gentle reminders on just how to do it.

1. Invest in proper gear

This might seem obvious, yet dressing to stay warm is a science that many of us are flunking. The rule of thumb is three layers.

The first layer, thermal underwear, keeps you both warm and dry-it should be thin, soft and able to “wick” moisture away from your body. Forget cotton and wool, as they trap moisture; instead, invest in a good synthetic fibre like polypropylene.

The second layer needs to fully insulate your body and continue moving any moisture away from you-fleece will do the trick.

The outer layer is your shell. It needs to vent the moisture, and protect you from cold wind and wet snow.

Ensure your layers can be easily removed to avoid overheating; if you’re doing an intensive workout, a wicking layer and shell may be all you require. And don’t try to be too cool for school by forgoing a hat, scarf or neck warmer and waterproof gloves; waterproof footwear and warm insulating socks are also a must. You don’t want to have to cut short your activity because you’re cold and wet.

2. Test new waters

The outdoor industry is constantly coming up with new technologies to convince us to upgrade our gear. Watch for some of these improvements on standard winter fare:

• Jackets equipped with battery-powered heat panels

• Wired-up clothing that will power and recharge various handheld devices, like iPods, cell phones and digital cameras

• Ever-thinner insulating fabrics for those who don’t like the bulkiness of fleece

• More fashionable and flattering winter gear

• A growing variety of recycled and sustainable fabrics

3. Seek beauty

Even the most hardened cities contain natural spaces, whether it’s a wild remnant wedged in between the glass and concrete or an official park sprawling with trees and urban wildlife. Here you can hike, run, snowshoe, in some cases even cross-country ski.

The secret, though, is not to just rush by it all for the sake of maintaining your heart rate. Instead, make a point of listening to the winter sounds (you know, crunching snow, squawking blue jays, whistling wind) and taking in the timeless sights (think bare trees against a pale winter sky). Multi-tasking isn’t just for the office and incorporating this kind of beauty into your workout will refresh you mentally, which will aid you physically.

4. Chase adventure

Taking on rugged landscape inspires toughness and capability, plus it mentally trains us to continue our everyday fitness challenges at home. Consider weekend or day trips devoted to dog-sledding, horseback riding, snowshoeing, ice climbing, trekking, cross-country skiing or winter camping. Yes, it is as cool as it sounds, and, no, it’s not that difficult or expensive to achieve. We have exquisite and accessible wilderness in this country running through hundreds of provincial, national and city parks, as well as private nature reserves and patchworks of old-fashioned public spaces. These places will endear you to the winter and ought not be squandered. An Internet search can hook you up with local accredited adventure companies in your area.

5. Go where the people are

Peer pressure works. No one wants to be the wussy of the bunch who can’t handle the bite of the north wind. So if you can, enjoy your winter fitness with friends. If your friends refuse to leave their homes, then consider joining an outdoors club. Or, search out activities in your own neighbourhood-natural rinks (the kind teeming with wonderful bumps and cracks that most of us grew up on) often offer weekly pick-up hockey games, and set aside plenty of open ice time for those who just want to skate.

6. Go beyond the workout

If enjoying winter fitness rests on being able to enjoy winter in general, then what we do when we’re not working out is important, too. Seize as many opportunities to be outside as you can. Whether it’s just walking instead of driving to the store, or something more elaborate like a nighttime picnic under a starry sky, roasting marshmallows over an outdoor backyard fireplace (yes, sadly, you will have to check your local bylaws if this is prohibited), trying your hand at outdoor photography in a nearby park, or just breaking out your journal and writing your day’s thoughts on your porch. Just remember, even when you’re not working out, don’t forget your warm hat, mittens and waterproof boots.

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