Ahh, winter! Shorter days. Frigid temperatures. Foul weather. Let's face it, spending the winter alternating between napping in bed and splaying across the couch sounds awfully good.
But fight the temptation. Winter sports can help you burn calories, increase your cardiovascular fitness, and strengthen muscles. Activities that are weight-bearing (like cross-country skiing or skating) help build stronger and denser bones.
Being outdoors and getting exercise are also great for your mental health. Exercise boosts mood and sunlight seems to help beat back the winter blues. So slap on some sunblock and go!
If you need more convincing, there's this: staying in shape during the winter gets you physically ready for springtime activities (and wardrobes).
What to Do?
Winter is a great time to experiment with new sports. The trick is to find one that matches your interests and natural abilities. If you like to walk, keep walking — on snowshoes. If you want to try an endurance sport, go for cross-country skiing. And snowboarding is just plain fun.
Alpine (downhill) skiing isn't as hard as it used to be — shorter, lightweight, curved skis make any beginner feel like an Olympic champ. These newer skis — along with another type of equipment called skiboards, which are even shorter than skis — help you control your speed and body movements.
Consider testing the latest high-tech skis or snowboards. Check with your local sports shop or the rental places at ski mountains about demo programs.
You could also try sledding. Use a wood-framed toboggan with steel runners or a plastic sled to head down a snowy hill. If you prefer ice to snow, think hockey or figure skating.
Runners can also train during the winter, although beware of wet or slippery roads. Or slip on a pair of snowshoes. One of the easiest sports around, snowshoeing can be excellent cold-weather cross-training for runners and cyclists — or anyone wanting to take a wintry walk in the woods. Snowshoes are smaller, lighter, and better than ever. If you want to try them out, you may be able to rent a pair for a day at many of the larger outdoor or sporting goods stores.
Classes and Basic Skills
Whatever sport you choose, don't rely on a friend for instruction. You wouldn't let an amateur perform brain surgery on you; why let one teach you to ski or skate? That's what instructors are for — to help newcomers start out right. Instructors can give you advice about equipment, techniques, safety, and dealing with injuries if they do happen to you.
It's tempting for an eager athlete to advance too quickly through learning the ropes. Resist the temptation. If you want to progress, invest your time in learning the basics thoroughly. Everything else you do as a skier, boarder, or skater will be built on these first skills.
Play It Safe
Play safely by figuring out what special equipment and safety gear you'll need. Planning an afternoon of snowshoeing or cross-country skiing? Pack water, snacks, fruit, and extra socks. If you're going out for a long time, keep your water bottle insulated from the cold so it doesn't freeze.
Regardless of how you get down a snow-covered slope, always watch for obstacles such as rocks, tree branches, and other people.
Don't head out onto the slopes or into remote country areas alone. Always go with a buddy and tell a friend what time you plan on returning. If you get in trouble and don't show up when you are supposed to, your friend has your back.
Before You Go
Take these precautions before you venture outside:
- Dress in layers to protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia. Layering allows you to put on or take off clothing as your body temperature changes. Wear clothes made of synthetic materials that keep moisture away from your skin. Avoid wearing cotton garments. You perspire while outdoors and cotton holds moisture next to the skin.
- Always wear a hat. Wear gloves or mittens and insulated, waterproof boots.
- Slather on the sunscreen and lip balm, even on cloudy days. UV rays reflect off the snow and can quickly give you a sunburn.
- Sunglasses or goggles with tinted lenses not only protect your eyes, but also help you see dips and bumps in the snow on not-so-bright days.
- Remove your earrings (especially steel posts) before you head outdoors. Metal posts make your ears feel colder.
- Stay visible. Winter brings shorter days and sunshine can quickly fade in the afternoon. Runners should wear reflective clothing and carry a flashlight that swings while moving.
Check Your Equipment
- Hockey players need a ton of protective equipment. Never take to the ice without shin guards, gloves, a helmet and mask, shoulder pads, elbow pads, and an athletic supporter.
- Double-check that all your equipment — helmet, skis, skates, poles, sleds, whatever — is in good condition. Look for any broken straps or cracks in the material.
- Use only skis and snowboards that have safety straps or ski brakes. The straps (sometimes called leashes) attach the ski or board to your leg to stop it from sliding away from you. Ski brakes trigger when the boot is released from the binding, stopping the ski from continuing down the slopes.
- Beginning boarders might also check out snowboard pants that have extra padding on the knees and rear end.
- Don't chew gum or carry sharp objects in your pockets while skiing or skating.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2008