You can still get your morning walk on and reach your step goals even during winter! When thinking about the best time to do your walks, a cold winter morning might not be the first thing to pop in your head. Even so, walking in the morning means making sure you get your steps in before life can step in and distracts you. The cool air and great exercise will make you feel great and ready to get after the day!
Since you’re here, you’re probably fairly comfortable walking for fitness. You have probably also faced the temptation to put off your daily walk, especially on a winter morning. It may be cold and dark – those are real concerns! But with a few modifications, you can make your winter morning walking routine inviting.
The tips below are designed to be used alone or together. Mix, match, and modify to make it work for you. Be sure to share what works with your friends in the community. And happy walking!
Check the Weather the Night Before
If you know what to expect and prepare accordingly, it will be business as usual when it’s time to get going in the morning. Of course, you can’t control the weather. Bad weather is still horrible, and weather conditions might change by the time you wake up. By checking ahead of time, when it’s not perfect you’ll be ready for it. You can also use the weather information to prepare your walking outfit, walking gear and more. Many weather apps and outlets will tell you the exact time of sunrise as well, which can help you decide when to walk!
Get Enough Sleep
The better rested you are, the fresher and more motivated you’ll be to walk in the morning. It goes without saying that everything is harder when you’re tired. The more tired you are, the more likely you are to hit snooze or to come up with some excuse not to walk. Setting a realistic bedtime you can stick to consistently will set you up for success the next day. You will often find that by removing some non-productive routine activities (like watching the latest episode of your favorite show), you can sleep earlier and wake up more refreshed!
Streamline Your Morning Routine
The more complicated and time consuming your pre-walking routine is, the more likely something will go wrong or that your willpower will run out before you walk. Developing an efficient routine will conserve the time and all important willpower for important tasks. By arranging tasks the night before when you’re more alert and focused, you make it easier for yourself if you wake up a bit groggy.
Clothes, food, makeup, hair, or shower: where does time tend to go long for you? Zahra Barnes of Self Magazine has some great recommendations for trimming time from your morning routine. You can also check some tips from Pacer on morning walks.
But Make Sure the Routine Works for You
There’s no one best way to get your steps in. Make sure your routine is enjoyable for you and is something that you can do consistently. Maybe your walk won’t happen until after your second cup of coffee. That’s great! Whatever gets you ready to walk is right for you.
Ideally, walking should become just another habit that you do regularly every day. You can anchor your walking to other activities that you do every day to increase the chances that walking becomes habitual as well.
Take the First Step
Commit to getting dressed and taking at least one step outside the door. Over time, there will be some days where you just don’t have it. That’s understandable. If you’re injured, sore or the weather is bad then it makes sense to take a break or to find an alternative exercise method. But many days, you will simply “not feel like it” when you could easily get a productive walk in!
To avoid this, when you don’t feel up for it commit to taking that first step outside the door. You will find that once you get that far, you will almost always discover you have the energy to get your full walk in! If you get dressed, get ready and go outside and your body still is telling you “not today,” then take the day off. Just knowing that you have an out can give you the motivation to give it a shot!
Set Up Walking Prompts
Maintaining awareness (i.e. reminders) of your upcoming walk goes a long way in overcoming resistance and lack of motivation. Scheduling your walks in your calendar or tracking your steps every day can help as reminders. You can use Pacer to track your steps and check in on goals as motivational tools. Some people feel that writing things down on a physical calendar helps, while others use online calendars.
Visible reminders can motivate you to go straight into your walking routine. Setting out your gear in front of your bedroom door or taping reminders on the bathroom mirror can flip the switch from morning mode to walking.
Walking in the morning may be the very best way to ensure you hit your step goals every day. However, it can also require an adjustment (particularly if you’re not a morning person). Let your body determine how fast and far it wants to go.
Especially if you’re just starting a morning walking routine during winter, make sure to start slow and see how your body reacts. The priority, in the beginning, is making your walk pleasant so it becomes habit forming (in a good way). Make sure you properly prepare for the cold weather, and ensure that you’re visible enough if walking in the dark.
Wear the Right Clothes and Gear
According to Wendy Bumgardner at VeryWell Fit Magazine, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Their winter walking gear guide gives you smart choices for each piece of clothing and gear.
The key principle of dressing correctly for winter walking is layering. It’s a rule of three: your base layer should wick body moisture, the middle layer should insulate to keep you warm, and the outer layer should keep out water and wind. When selecting clothes, think breathable and/or waterproof.
While you’ll be outside for a considerable amount of time, you’ll also be active. Your body temperature will increase, so don’t dress too warm (and allow for a removable layer in case you get too hot). When in doubt, however, leave the outer layer on and let yourself sweat a bit. Taking off your outer layer will allow wind and/or water to hit your body. If you’re already sweaty, this can make you very cold, very quickly. If sweat becomes a problem, consider wearing 2 thinner middle layers and removing one of them instead of your outer, wind-breaking layer.
Prepare for Snow and Rain
If it’s raining or particularly cold, useful add-ons include hand warmers and an umbrella. Note that there are now rechargeable hand warmers that double as portable power for your phone (another thing to bring!). Make sure that you’re wearing waterproof or water-resistant shoes if shoe and rain is a factor. Even a bit of water can make your feet extremely cold and uncomfortable.
Snow, freezing rain and ice can be very dangerous. When in doubt, find somewhere inside to walk or consider taking the day off. If you do walk, make sure that your shoes have good grip, and try to find paths that are salted and have good footing. Keep a lookout for ice!
Visibility in the Dark
If you’re walking when it’s dark, be sure to bring a light source like a flashlight or headlamp. Wear bright, easy to spot clothing. Reflective tape can be very important if you’re going to be crossing the street or walking in hard to see areas in the dark. Here are some more tips on walking when it’s dark.
Plan Your Route
First, make sure you feel safe walking your chosen route for the conditions and amount of light. Make sure to account for ice buildup and morning darkness, as the early morning is usually the coldest, darkest part of the day. Beyond that, pick a route that works for your style. Maybe the same route is desirable so you can do it on autopilot without any required planning. Or maybe a new route every now and again will keep it fresh and interesting for you.
You can check Pacer’s Routes function for ideas on where to walk, but there are also a variety of resources that you can use as well. Taking a leisurely walk can be a fun way to get your steps, but for an early morning winter walk you’re likely better off having a predetermined route. You’ll be more motivated and can keep up a better pace if you know where and how far you’re walking. It will also help you avoid danger spots like icy areas or unlit areas as you’ll be used to walking the route.
Having a destination in mind for your walks could add a sense of purpose to pull you forward. It could be as simple as a beautiful view, a coffee run, or watching as people start their commutes.
Consider Walking Inside
Sometimes, the weather just doesn’t cooperate, but the show must go on! Even if it’s awful outside, you can try walking a loop in the comfort of your home or apartment building! If you’re walking in the very early morning, there’s a good chance that most of your go-to walking options (malls, etc) will be closed. At a minimum, you can try listening to an audiobook or podcast while pacing in your room. If the weather is not terrible, but it’s either too cold or just difficult for you to walk outside, consider these indoor walking ideas.
Take a Friend or Pet
Nothing like a dog needing to be walked or a friend saying, “let’s go!” to get you walking. Having someone counting on you is a strong motivator, and it makes your walk that much more fun. For morning walks, you will want to try to find someone with a similar schedule to your own that also wants to get motivated to walk early. If there’s a coffee shop or breakfast location nearby, consider walking there together, or meeting up there if you don’t live close by.
Create a Rewarding Ritual
Celebrate your progress. As beneficial as walking is, it can be easy to lose track of your progress. It’s also exciting to take stock on how far you’ve come.
Take time to recognize your achievement and do something nice for yourself if you’ve been consistently hitting your step goals. Consider something small on weekly basis and something big when you hit a long-term milestone.
Reflect on the Value of Walking
Think or write about how your walking efforts are benefiting your health and mood. After all, you’re walking to be healthier and feel better. When you make the connection that walking equals these benefits, it will increase your motivation and help overcome resistance. A great way to do this is to write down your top 3 reasons for walking. Put them on a post-it-note or someplace that you’ll see frequently throughout your day.
If you don’t think you’re getting enough benefits, try to find some benefits you could get from walking. Revisit your intensity level and technique to see if there are ways to improve the experience.
Get out there and walk! You can do it. Start slow, prepare yourself, and dress warmly. You can get even more steps, feel great and get healthier than ever even in the dark of winter!