Keeping your feet warm during winter walking sessions is critical to getting in your daily recommended walking and exercise. It’s not just a function of choosing the right shoes to walk in (though that’s important), but also socks, insoles and more. Frostbite is a real threat to walkers, even in covered areas like your feet. When your feet (and the rest of you) are warm and dry, you’ll enjoy walking more and be motivated to stay active even when the temperatures drop.
Even when the temperatures drop, walking outside is a great exercise that benefits your physical health and significantly improves your mood. This winter, don’t let the cold scare you away; with a few simple tips, your body will be ready to handle those frigid temps and stay on track with your step goals.
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The Importance of Keeping Your Feet Warm
Keeping your feet warm and dry is critical if you want to be a successful winter walker. If you are one of those walkers who enjoys getting their steps in outdoors, you don’t need to start walking indoors or only using a treadmill just because it’s wintertime. The two most important factors to winter walking are avoiding slips and falls on ice and snow and keeping warm – especially in your extremities.
Frostbite is injury caused by exposure to cold. It often occurs to exposed skin, but it can still happen to feet, fingers or other areas even if you cover them. When your body is exposed to cold temperatures, it reacts by constricting blood vessels in the extremities to conserve your body heat in your core. As your extremities cool down, ice crystals can form in your skin or other tissues. Water actually expands when it freezes (you may have seen a can of soda burst in your freezer). This means that as cells freeze, they can burst and cause tissue damage.
Finding the right pair of walking shoes or boots will not only help prevent frostbite, but it will allow you to stay outside longer and help you maintain your proper walking form and brisk walking pace. Preparing for the winter elements will not only allow you to exercise outside during this winter season, but it will leave you healthier, happier, and fitter as well.
Help Your Feet Handle the Frigid Elements
Getting outside during those cold winter months is not only invigorating, but it can help boost your mood and make you feel great. Both exercise (like walking) and spending time in sunlight increase your levels of serotonin, which is a hormone that can help control your cravings. However, as the temperature dips and you head out to get your daily walk make sure your feet are ready to handle the icy and cold conditions with a few essentials.
Waterproof, Lightweight Walking Shoes:
Depending on your terrain, investing in sturdy walking shoes or lightweight hiking boots will be an ideal option for keeping you safe and your feet warm during the winter months. Winter walking shoes should be waterproof to keep out snow and freezing rain so you can keep walking long distances. No matter how warm your socks are, wet feet are going to be cold feet. Winter shoes should also not be too breathable like indoor or summer walking shoes. Running shoes, for instance, are usually vented to keep your feet cool. The cold air that they let in can get through your warm socks and your other defenses.
It’s also important that your winter shoes have a grooved sole that gives you a strong grip on the pavement. While no shoes can get great traction on pure ice, shoes with good grip can decrease your risk of slips and falls.
A good pair of thick, warm socks can compensate if your shoes are not as warm and windproof as you’d like. Wool socks are a great choice, as are synthetic materials that perform like wool but may have other useful properties. Cotton tends to absorb water, which isn’t great for a base layer (including your socks). Remember that if your shoes let in water, your thick, wet socks will just end up locking in the cold. Also keep in mind that very fluffy socks may cause your shoes to fit tighter than normal, so you may want to adjust your laces to ensure that you’re not cutting off blood flow to your feet.
Another great option to keeping your feet warm is to layer your socks. Just make sure that when you layer, your feet are still comfortable, and your shoes aren’t too tight when you lace them up. Wrapping your feet too tightly can restrict blood flow, which in turn can make your feet colder faster (in addition to the normal risks of cutting off blood flow to your feet). In this case, you’d probably want to use a thin, athletic sock that wicks moisture as the inner layer and a thicker sock as the outer layer.
If your insoles are wearing thin, cold can seep into your shoes through your soles as your feet strike the ground. You can find special winter weather insoles, or simply replace the worn-out insoles with a new aftermarket pair. Be aware that if your insoles are starting to wear out, it may be time to replace your walking shoes.
Long pants, high socks or long underwear:
Don’t forget your ankles and shins can get cold too. Wearing high socks tucked into long underwear (or at least long pants that cover your ankles) can keep your lower legs warm. Open bottomed pants can create gaps that cold air will flow into making your whole legs cold. For women wearing dresses, cold weather leggings are a must as well. Pants are generally a better option as you have a tough outer layer with only a small opening around the ankle for air to get in.
Thermal toe warming pads can keep your feet warm, but be very careful if you do choose to use them. With hand warmers, you can easily take them out of your gloves or drop them if they get too hot. Foot warmers are much harder to take off, so you might end up ignoring them and burning your feet due to the difficulty of getting at them. Warming foot pads are also usually not very comfortable to walk on, so they really should be a desperation option if all else fails.
In icy conditions, even shoes with excellent traction may not be enough. Purchasing some walking poles will help you with your balance when the ground conditions are not ideal. You can also use them to poke the ground and identify black ice or snow that’s been iced over. Since days are shorter in winter, this is particularly important if you walk in the early morning or in the evening when visibility is poor.
Don’t Let the Cold Stop You: Dress for Success
Your feet are not the only thing that you need to keep warm in winter. Staying warm and comfortable is vital if you want to make sure you stick with your 10,000 steps or personal walking goal.
- Coat: Look for wind and waterproof synthetic fabrics for your outer layer. They’re comfortable and will keep you warm throughout your workout.
- Dress in Layers: Dressing in layers allows you to remove a layer if you get too hot while keeping on your windproof coat. Your outer layer should always be the last thing that you remove if you get hot. Once you start to sweat, the last thing you need is a cold wind getting through your layers. Wear moisture-wicking inner layers, and avoid cotton fabrics because they tend to absorb water.
- Gloves, Hat, and Sunscreen: Your ears, nose, and face are also very susceptible to frostbite. Wear a warm hat and gloves to protect those areas, and don’t forget sunscreen for exposed areas. You may not feel the heat, but the sun’s UV rays are still hitting your face and keeping your skin safe is vitally important all year-round. If it’s very cold where you live, consider a neck warmer that covers your nose and mouth or a ski-style face mask. You’ll appreciate the small investment during those very long walks.
- Scarf: A light scarf or a thin mask is a great addition to prevent the sting of the cold air as you are inhaling. Anything that helps warm the air a bit as you breathe in can help people with asthma or breathing issues.
- Warm-up: While you should always warm up before cardio exercise, when it’s cold outside it takes your body a little longer to loosen up. Give yourself an extra five minutes to allow your muscles, cardiovascular system, and your heart a chance to warm up. Start with some marching in place or doing some jumping jacks indoors before you head out on your walk.
- Rule of 5: Going outside and exercising in the frigid temperatures may be the last thing on your mind. However, if you tell yourself that you can stop after five minutes, there is a high likelihood that once you’re dressed and walking you will continue on with your walk.
This winter, don’t let the cold stop you from getting in your steps. With the right clothing, not only will you stay safe and warm, but you will be able to get those miles in and feel healthy and fit the whole winter season.
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Cold Weather Ways To Burn Fat Fast! (2011). By Sarah Robertson. Prevention.
The Best Walking Shoes for Winter. (ND). By Michelle Hogan. Livestrong.
Yes! You Can Walk During the Winter. (ND). By Nancy Rones. WeightWatchers