Need Exercise in Winter? Take to the Outdoors

By Dr. Molly Casey

Cross Country Skiing

Winter can be tough for a number of different reasons. The shorter days and the decreased temperatures can make it feel much more difficult for folks to participate in all the healthy activities that promote their well-being. One of the greatest things to go by the wayside is exercise. In turn, a decrease in exercise then compounds not only the health issues of not moving enough, but also the anxiety and depression that often increases during the winter time.

Exercise is Non-Negotiable

Making it through the winter months, fully commit to yourself that exercise will not fall to the side and become a thing of the past. It may take a bit of ingenuity, creativity, and definitely discipline. One of the most helpful tools I’ve found is to try new forms of exercise regularly. Keep your routine and work out your body but try new things too. Sometimes the routine and repetition are enough to kill the motivation and we simply never fulfill our well-intentioned plans. Create one day a week to try a new exercise and enjoy the adventure along with the physical activity.

Cross-Country Skiing

While it may initially seem boring and lackluster moving through the woods because there are no huge slopes and fast speeds, cross-country skiing can be invigorating and provide incredible benefits at the same time.

Cardiovascular health - Your heart and structures for optimal health require that you add some physical stress in the form of activity to increase and promote optimal function. Cross-country skiing requires both upper and lower body movement and it makes this exercise that much more efficient than many others.

Stress reduction - Exercise in and of itself helps mitigate the effects of stress. Being outside in nature while exercising adds a whole other element. So much of daily life -- for most of us -- is going non-stop, and spending time outside occurs less and less as modern day life continually removes us further from nature. The solitude in nature has the ability to heal beyond what we truly know. Intentionally spending time outside and soaking this up while getting exercise will naturally fight the seasonal depression and anxiety common to winter.

Increase endurance - Endurance is about a willingness to withstand an unpleasant or difficult situation without giving way, either physical or otherwise. When we stress our bodies in the form of physical exercise, we’re building physical endurance -- and mental too. Cross-country skiing can help with this in many different ways. I like the compounded effect of the silence, being outdoors in a cold environment, plus the actual physical movement, and find that it is an excellent endurance builder beyond simply pushing the body in the gym.

Full ranges of motion - Unless you awkwardly want to perform very small strides and get nearly nowhere in a long period of time, cross-country skilling promotes long full strides through your joint range of motion. It is easy, in most activities in daily life, to not fully squat or only move the arms a little bit. But once you get the hang of it, it’s almost unnatural to do anything other than extend as far as possible in your stride while gliding through the countryside. This promotes full circulation and increased lymphatic flow to get rid of waste in the body.

Low impact - Last, but certainly not least, your body doesn’t take a beating. Running, weightlifting, CrossFit, and HIIT (high intensity interval training)classes -- they all are incredible sources of exercise; at the same time, at some level, all involve more moderate to significant impact on the body. After years and years of performing these, the impact can take a toll. Cross-country skiing is minimal impact while still requiring the body to perform at a higher level.

Continue to be active throughout the winter. Don’t let the short days, or the cold weather, get you. Try something new every single week. Give cross-country a try, you may be pleasantly surprised not only at the incredible workout, but the other benefits as well!

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