Stay active this winter and hit your step goal even as the weather gets colder. You definitely can overcome winter walking’s challenges and get your 30 minutes of daily walking or your 10,000 steps. Whether the weather is just getting colder, or the coldest months of winter may have already arrived, you can and should keep walking. You will need to walk more carefully, bundle up and take extra care to warm up and cool down.
With the right motivation and planning, you’ll maintain your active lifestyle this winter. In fact, you may even burn more calories when walking in cold weather. These 9 tips will help you stay warm, stay safe, and get more steps in cold weather plus some bonus ideas on indoor walking when the weather really does shut you down.
1) Dress appropriately:
It goes without saying that you’ll need to wear warmer clothing to walk outside in the cold winter air. The trick is staying warm without sweating too much during your walk.
Fortunately, there are a number of lightweight, high-tech materials that can help you stay warm and try. Thermax, Thinsulate, and Polypropylene are some examples. It’s a good idea to dress in layers as you’ll have more flexibility. Wear a base layer made from a fabric that wicks moisture away from your skin. Many sports or jogging clothes meet these criteria. Over this, you can wear a middle layer that provides warmth. Since this layer is not pressed against your skin, you can wear a fluffier material like fleece. Finally, wear an outer layer of a material that keeps you protected from wind and possible snow or cold rain. Materials like GoreTex, are waterproof and help to block a cold wind. This also allows you to quickly remove the outer layer if you’re getting very hot, or if you stop inside a shop or cafe for a snack.
You’ll also want to wear gloves to protect your fingers from frostbite and a hat to prevent losing body heat from the top of your head. If it’s very cold, cover your nose and mouth loosely with a scarf or mask to help cut down the sting of the cold air. This is particularly if you have asthma or heart problems.
2) Don’t ignore the footwear:
Walking in winter weather calls for appropriate shoes. Especially if you live in a snowy area, wearing warm, hiking-style boots can help you feel great while walking. Even if snow isn’t an issue, wearing ankle-high, water-resistant footwear can help protect your feet from rain, puddles or wet leaves. The shoes or boots you pick should be water-resistant with a sole that provides adequate traction to keep you from slipping on any ice. You should also ensure that your boots keep your feet warm during cold weather walking.
You should be aware that many traditional running or sports shoes are designed to cool your feet by allowing air to enter. This is great in the summer but means that cold air and moisture can easily enter during winter. Fancier, leather shoes often don’t have soles designed for maximum grip. Ice and slippery surfaces are an issue even if there’s no snow. You’ll also want to avoid wearing your nice shoes as many places salt the sidewalk. Having a nice pair of durable boots or winter shoes is worth a small investment!
3) Don’t forget about the sun:
Even if it’s cloudy or cold outside, it doesn’t mean you can forget about sun protection! Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and lip balm with sun protection. It’s also important to wear sunscreen and lip balm because cold winter air can dry out your skin. Feel better and protect yourself at the same time.
White snow and ice can also reflect the sun and bother your eyes. Wear sunglasses if you’re getting glare off of snow and ice.
4) Warm-up before you go:
It’s cold outside, so don’t forget to warm up! Spend at least 5-10 minutes of light walking as a warmup before you start a brisk fitness walk in the cold. A good warmup should be part of any cardio routine in cold weather. This doesn’t mean to jump right into deep stretching before your ready. Your warm-up could simply be walking around your house, or doing some simple exercises like jumping jacks. You don’t want to sweat so much that your base layer gets wet and freezes when you get outside, but you do want your muscles to be ready. Warming up can help prevent strains or injuries, which is especially important in winter when there could be slippery ice or snow.
5) Pay special attention to walking when it’s dark:
Days are shorter in the winter, so it’s more likely you’ll be walking when it’s dark outside. Read our tips on the special challenges of night walking. Wear clothing with bright colors and reflective materials so you can be easily seen. A headlamp can be great for lighting up dark walking paths. You’re already used to tracking steps with Pacer, but make sure to carry your cell phone and ID with you just in case. If you can walk with a friend, do so. When out at night, always let someone know your route and how long you expect to be gone.
Winter has its own special night walking challenges. As the sun goes down and the temperature drops, wet sidewalks turn icy. What may have been an easy walking path during the day can turn treacherous at night. Try to stick to paths with good lighting, as you can often see the shine from a patch of ice before you step on it. If there’s a lot of snow, be aware that snow can also freeze over and be much more slippery at night.
6) Protect your extremities from the cold:
When you’re out in the cold for a long time, your extremities will get colder before your core does. Be proactive and keep your fingers, toes, ears, and nose warm even if you’re not feeling cold yet. Keeping these areas warm prevents frostbite injuries and lets you stay walking longer. Pay special attention to your toes and keeping your feet warm by wearing appropriate shoes and warm socks (see the footwear section). You won’t be able to reach your feet for the duration of your walk, so it’s essential to keep your feet warm or you’ll have to cut your walk short (or risk frostbite)!
Here’s one easy tip if your fingers are always cold: Try mittens instead of gloves. If your fingers are always getting cold even in gloves, mittens allow you to put your fingers together or make a fist.
Frostbite can be an issue if you’re out during very cold weather. If your skin turns bright red, feels very cold and tingles, you may be experiencing frostnip which is the beginning of frostbite. Your nose, ears, fingers, and toes are the areas to watch most closely. If you begin to feel signs of frostnip, cover the exposed area (if not covered already) and go inside immediately. Be careful in that both numbness and pain can be signs of frostbite, so if you’re feeling pain in your fingers or toes, warm them up even if you notice the pain start to subside.
7) Keep water close at hand:
Hydration is still just as important even in cold weather. You may not be sweating as much as you would in the winter, but you still don’t want to forget to drink water on long walks. Adults should drink 0.4 to 0.8 liters of fluid per hour during exercise, according to The American College of Sports Medicine.
For some extra warmth, you can try using a cold-resistant flask and taking warm tea or warm water with you during your walks. This can give you a little extra warming pick-me-up. If you are carrying a regular water bottle, just remember it’s going to get cold from the cold temperatures!
8) If it’s too cold, take it indoors!
If it’s dangerously cold outside or rain or snow is making it hard to walk, get your steps inside! See our tips on indoor walking for some ideas. If you have a treadmill at home or at the gym, that can be a great way to get your steps in when it’s cold outside. Other places to walk include malls, big box stores or supermarkets or indoor walking tracks if you have one available. If you’re not feeling great, walking inside can be more comfortable than walking outside. You can walk with a cold, but if you have a fever, chills or soreness it’s better to stay home.
Even if you’re walking indoors, make sure to dress warmly so you don’t get cold walking to and from the indoor walking area. If you work up a sweat walking indoors it can be easy to get very cold walking to your car or transit to get home.
9) Track your steps with Pacer!
You’ll need to stay motivated to hit your step goals and stay active during the winter. Pacer tracks your steps, and helps you keep moving regardless of the weather. Although your body will thank you in the long run for walking in winter, in the moment you may find yourself just wanting to plop down on the couch. Joining a challenge, or sharing your steps with friends or the Pacer community can help motivate and encourage you to make the right choices and to stay active.
Winter walking is challenging, but it can be extremely rewarding as well. It’s amazingly refreshing to go for a morning walk in the cold winter air. You may get to see a beautiful, snowy landscape and watch your breath form little clouds as you walk. Maybe best of all, it’s an immensely satisfying feeling to finish your walk and sit down to a nice cup of tea or hot chocolate knowing that not even winter can stop you from getting your steps!
If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.