Get Outside to Exercise, Even in Wintry Weather

Exercising outside isn’t exactly tempting in the bitter cold, biting wind and slippery snow.

But there are plenty of ways to stay in shape safely through the winter season without being cooped up in the gym.

“Outdoor activities are always great ways to get exercise,” said Shape magazine (search)'s fitness director, Linda Shelton. “There’s nothing like fresh air. It’s stuffy inside. It’s really good to get outside.”

Shelton and other fitness experts say that snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating and running are all good ways to get exercise outdoors during the coldest months of the year.

“You can definitely snowshoe — it’s incredibly popular and it’s quite a bit of fun,” said Eric von Frohlich, founder of Roadfit (search), an outdoor training program based in New York. “Cross-country skiing is also incredibly popular. And you can pretty much run anywhere.”

For those looking for more unusual frosty-weather workouts, dog sledding and ice climbing are both good ways to burn calories, according to Crunch Fitness (search) publicist Shetal Amin.

And several programs, like Roadfit and a new Crunch gym class called Urban Adventure, have participants do exercise routines outside, even when it’s chilly. Von Frohlich's philosophy is to "use whatever is in the environment," and those in his class are all for it.

"I get so bored inside the gym," said Roadfitter Terri Ferrari, 37. "I realized I can use a park bench to do my leg-strengthening exercises, and I can leap-frog through the park. You had to see the look on my face the first time he (von Frohlich) told me to climb up a light pole and do pull-ups."

The Crunch workout has people doing outdoor warm-ups, then running to various landmarks of the city they’re in.

People can also do similar workouts on their own, whether they're city mice, country mice, or something in between.

“Use your neighborhood as an outdoor gym,” Shelton suggested.

There are a number of ordinary activities the health-minded can do out in nature during the wintertime to shape up.

“People need to shovel snow — that’s a great workout,” said Amin. “Even just going for a 30-minute walk in the snow (gives you) a different workout.”

But those determined to exercise in the cold need to heed a few safety tips, exercise gurus say — like layering their clothing to avoid frostbite and injury.

The base layer should be made of a material that absorbs perspiration — a “moisture-wicking” fabric — so that it doesn’t dry on the skin and cause the body to become chilled. A middle and outer layer, or shell, are also advisable on the top, as well as two to three layers on the legs, a hat, gloves and even protective eyeglasses if it’s windy.

Ferrari wears a hat, double-layered socks and trail shoes with small cleats to navigate the snowy, slick or frost-hardened terrain.

“If you’re dressed correctly for the weather, it shouldn’t impede your workout. It shouldn’t impede going outside,” Shape magazine's Shelton said.

Von Frohlich tells his group to put Vaseline on the face and lips and tiger balm or “Red Hot” — creams that heat up when a person sweats — on joints to further protect from the elements.

"When cold hits the muscles, the muscles will automatically tense up," Ferrari said. "I put tiger balm around my knees and ankles — any of the joints that take a lot of shock."

Forty-five minutes to an hour should be the maximum time out in the cold, according to von Frohlich.

“You have to really pay attention to not having your skin exposed and not staying out too long,” he said.

Drinking lots of fluids is also crucial to avoid getting dehydrated. Three ounces of water for every 20 minutes of exercise is the recommended amount, according to Shelton.

“People don’t realize how much they perspire when working out during the winter,” von Frohlich said. “They get really dehydrated. They’re more susceptible to frostbite when they’re dehydrated.”

When the mercury is really low, it isn’t advisable to do much of anything outside. The gym and the house are safer places for a workout.

“At certain temperatures, you should really stay indoors (because) it becomes unsafe to get outside and exercise,” Shelton said.

On those particularly frigid days — or even days when you just can’t motivate to brave the cold — Shelton suggests a few choice exercises that can be done without leaving home.

“To simulate skating indoors, you can take two paper plates and put your feet on them on a surface that slides,” she said. “It (provides) the same butt, hip and thigh benefits as skating. … You can use the elements in your home … the countertop for push-away pushups, a chair for triceps and abdominals.”

But in most wintry weather, fitness types say getting out to work out is the best way to go.

“You’re going outside anyway to get to the gym,” von Frohlich said. “Why not work out outdoors? There’s more oxygen circulating. You get fresh air. It’s a much more enjoyable, mentally refreshing workout than going to the gym.”

There's an added bonus: Going outside for exercise doesn't have to break the bank.

"People forget that right at our fingertips, we've got nature — and it's free," Ferrari said.