Our busy schedules make it difficult to get the daily physical activity that our bodies require. It can be tough all year long, but winter becomes a very sedentary time for most of us up north where it’s cold. The cold weather and snow give us great excuses to stay inside.
Patients are often surprised when I encourage outdoor activities during the winter months. They often look at me with a bewildered look on their face, as if to say, “What? Me? Outside? In this cold, wintery weather?” It is then that I have to remind them that they will not freeze.
Although I use treadmills, a rowing machine, and an exercise bike, I am not very fond of them. They get the job done, especially when it is pouring down rain outside, but I would much rather be outside. When encouraging increased physical activity (I start by using the word “activity” instead of “exercise”), I explain how helpful it is to hide exercise. This means taking a physical activity that you love… and making that your exercise.
If you love to ice skate, go ice skating with some regularity. If you love the Metroparks, throw on some boots and go for a hike. If you have always wanted to try cross-country skiing, rent some skis and get out there. If you walked in the summer, you can do it in the winter, too. Outdoor activities require a little more gear, like good quality boots, insulated gloves, and a waterproof jacket, but it is worth it.
We have become wimps! I often think of families that had to travel great distances by wagon. They survived on little food and endured rough weather, but they pressed on and got to where they were headed. Many only had a wood fire to keep them warm. They would look at us in disgust in regards to how weak we have become. Heck, my vehicle came standard with a remote start, heated seat, and even a heated steering wheel. What’s worse… I use them.
Your kids need to get outside too. They long to be outside. We have a natural need to breath fresh air, get some real sunlight, and move our bodies the way they were meant to move. Even if you cannot ride bikes or go for a run, going sled riding, building a snowman, or even having a family snowball fight all qualify as exercise. Set up “challenges” for your kids. Map out a course around the house and time them in a snow run. See who can build the best snowman in a specified amount of time. Creating an outdoor obstacle course is a blast for children. Having them set it up is even better.
Exercise is not confined to being on the treadmill or working out in the gym. Any activity that causes your heart to beat faster, your muscles to get flexed, and your joints to get moving will give you tremendous health benefits. And indoor exercise equipment is usually restricted to specific, set motions, engaging only certain muscles, joints, and tissues. A good hike stimulates all your joints, in all ranges of motion, and tests your balance as you step over logs, slip off of roots, and slide on the snow.
So, this winter get off the couch, put on the appropriate gear, and get outside. Make your healthier ancestors, who spent most of their lives outside, proud. You’re tougher than you think, and I promise, you can handle it!