Walking is one of the best forms of exercise. Not only does it not require any special equipment, but you can do it just about anywhere, in any season. And though you might not feel as motivated to keep going on walks once the weather gets cold, studies show that you actually tend to burn more calories in cold temperatures because your metabolic rate increases. If you’re hoping to stay active this winter (and maybe even burn a few extra calories) here’s how to stay safe in cold weather.
The first step you’ll want to take should happen before you ever leave the house. Dress for the weather with layers of clothing. You’ll want to start with moisture-wicking fabrics against your skin. This is important because these fabrics wick sweat to the outer surface of the fabric and dry quickly. This is more comfortable because it means you’re not walking around in soaked fabrics. That also helps your body regulate temperature better. Many moisture-wicking fabrics are synthetics like polyester or nylon. (You’ll want to avoid cotton, which is great at holding moisture.)
After the first moisture-wicking layer, add a second layer like a sweatshirt. You’ll want to put on outerwear—like a fleece or winter jacket—to insulate and keep body heat close. Finally, don’t forget to accessorize. Reach for athletic or wool socks, which will also wick moisture instead of trapping moisture from snow, sweat or rain. If temperatures are below freezing, use a face mask or scarf to cover your nose and mouth. Bundle up with hats and gloves to protect your extremities, too.
Once you leave the house, it’s important to take it slow. Cold weather can be more difficult to walk in, as it’s more stressful on the heart and lungs. (If you have a heart or respiratory condition, you should ask your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.) If you aren’t used to walking in the cold, aim for shorter distances at first. Over time, you can build up to a longer walk.
Also keep safety in mind when planning a walk. Go out during daylight hours, when you’ll be able to enjoy peak visibility. This is especially true if you’ll be walking in poorly lit areas, such as in the woods or through a neighborhood. It’s also important to stay hydrated. You may not feel as thirsty in the cold, but your body still needs water! Drink some beforehand and take a bottle with you if you’ll be walking for a while.
Lastly, you may want to skip walking altogether if conditions are icy or poor weather is approaching. Anyone can fall on an icy patch of sidewalk or driveway, but these types of falls can cause serious complications for older adults.
Exercise is easier with a buddy to hold you accountable. If you live with a spouse or partner, this might be something you can enjoy together! Another strategy is to form a walking group with friends or neighbors. Just make sure you’re taking appropriate health precautions, like wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.