We get it. Sometimes the cold weather and dark days have all of us craving a cozy blanket and our couch — not so much the gym.
But movement is important all year long (with benefits spanning nearly every facet of health), especially during the winter months if you’re feeling low in energy or your mood is glum (exercise can be a helpful antidote to the winter blues).
So change up your workout routine to add some activities that are ideal for this time of year and that you look forward to.
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Or use the winter elements to your advantage, says Wisconsin-based LaLa Duncan, a certified pain-free performance specialist and virtual strength and conditioning trainer for the gym Dogpound. Workouts you do in the snow, for example, force you to strengthen the muscles that help stabilize you and increase calorie burn. Walking in the snow, for example, requires more effort than walking on dry pavement, she says. “Walking on uneven surfaces is superb for engaging your core muscles,” she explains.
Here are eight winter-friendly workouts you’ll find yourself looking forward to when the cold weather blows in.
1. Brisk Walking
It’s simple, but it can absolutely deliver on big fitness gains, says Evans. Walking works the muscles of the lower body and is lower impact on your joints. It improves cardiovascular fitness and promotes good bone health. Do it in nearly any weather by dressing appropriately.
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Why not take it a step further and make it a group activity? Research published in January 2015 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine measured the health benefits of walking groups across 42 studies and found evidence that group walking benefited several health measures, from blood pressure to resting heart rate to body fat to cholesterol levels.
Breathable wicking fabrics are best for reducing the cooling effects of body sweat, and be sure to wear gear to cover your head, face, and hands, which are prone to losing heat quickly, according to recommendations in a review on cold weather exercise published in September 2021 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. And don’t forget about footwear. Opt for waterproof snow boots or sneakers (if there will be precipitation) with good traction (or gripping) for tackling the elements, like snow, sludge, or patches of ice.
Skiing can be an intense or more moderate workout, depending on your skill level and the types of routes you do. Both downhill and cross-country skiing can improve flexibility, build up your core muscles, and of course, work those legs.
Research has concluded that downhill skiing increases leg muscle strength, promotes healthy aging, improves musculoskeletal and postural functioning, and supports emotional health, according to a review published in 2018 in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.
Be sure to take steps to avoid injuries caused by muscle tightness from the cold, like making sure your body is warm before beginning rigorous activity, says Josh Jones, DPT, a Breckenridge, Colorado–based physical therapist and orthopedic specialist who works with professional skiers. Experiment with dynamic stretching or a light warm-up to promote ample blood flow for the workout ahead.
Snowboarding comes with a lot of the same physical demands as skiing. But unlike skiing, for which your weight is balanced over two skis, snowboarding requires just a single board.
“It’s an excellent workout, not only for strengthening your lower body but also for your core — if you are riding with proper technique,” says Daniel Mastey, a snowboarding coach certified by the American Association of Snowboard Instructors and the United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association (Level 200), based in Windsor, New York.
Don’t discount the mental benefits of snowboarding either, Mastey says. You’re going to fall sometimes, but he adds, “Getting right back up in snowboarding is also a lesson that you can carry into your personal life to improve your mindset and accomplish more.”
Unleash your inner child with the classic winter activity of sledding. It’s fun and great for people of all ages. “Everyone in the family can enjoy sledding,” says Duncan.
Aside from the fun, you can reap cardiovascular and strength benefits, too, especially if you’re the one carrying the sled up the hill.
You don’t have to be pirouetting or jumping to get a workout on ice skates. Just doing laps around a rink requires balance and coordination, says former nationally ranked figure skater Anna Brodetsky-Lubischer, a National Association for Fitness Certification–certified personal trainer and co-owner of the gym Lubischer’s Burn and Blast Training in West Long Branch, New Jersey. “Skating also builds up two important muscle groups of your body: your legs and core,” Brodetsky-Lubischer adds. So don’t be surprised if you feel sore the next day!
A study published in December 2018 in the journal Behavioral Sciences found that the self-reported benefits of regular ice-skating included improved motor skills, muscle tone, self-esteem, and other physical and mental health measures in a group of young adults (though it’s worth noting that the report is based on a fairly small number of responses).
If there’s snow on the ground nearby, try making your winter walk a snowshoe trek (snowshoes look somewhat like racquets that you strap on your shoes or boots to allow you to walk on top of the snow rather than sinking into it). It can also be a great way to explore parks or some hiking trails suitable for the sport.
Low impact yet still guaranteed to raise your heart rate, this winter activity is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. “It’s a great lower-body workout that targets your glutes, calves, hip abductors, quads, hamstrings, and core,” Duncan says. You’ll need to use your core to keep balanced and keep steps controlled (to avoid falling), she says.
If you want to skip the outdoor workout, find a boxing gym nearby or call up a virtual boxing workout. (Several gyms offer live or on-demand classes.) It’s great for relieving stress and improving cardiovascular fitness because it gets your heart rate up, Evans says.
The benefits of boxing are similar to other cardiovascular workouts, with the added benefit that it’s a really good upper body workout (unlike other popular cardio choices, like running and cycling, which require more from the lower body), according to Harvard Health Publishing.
8. Pilates and Yoga
If you notice tight hip flexor muscles or hamstrings, it could be because many of us tend to spend more time sitting inside during the colder months of the year compared with when the weather is more hospitable, says Jessica Roberts, a nationally certified Pilates teacher based in Reno, Nevada.
Practices like Pilates and yoga, which promote strength, mobility, and flexibility, can really help counteract all of that immobility, Roberts says. The gentle movements that involve a lot of stretching and lengthening of muscles can be a great cross-training option if you do other high-impact winter sports (like skating, skiing, or snowboarding), she adds. The strengthening components of Pilates and yoga also help prep your body for unexpected jerks and twists that can happen with those winter sports.
Plus, both are indoor-friendly activities for days the weather is too inclement for you to want to get out in it.