The onset of winter does not signal the end of exercise and outdoors activities. There’s plenty of skiing and snowboarding available in the Northeast, the American Rockies, across Canada, and even in Southern California. For those who like their exercise with less dramatic velocity and acceleration, walking and running continue to be possible in winter. The key to successful exercise throughout the winter, beyond the will power required to just get out there and do it, is an extra level of care and attention to what’s going on around us and directly in front of us.
In the urban environment, the primary problem from late November through March is slippery sidewalks and roads. If you’re not cautious, you might step on a hidden patch of ice and end up on the ground. This is true even in Southern states such as Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, where winter snowstorms are not uncommon. If you’re exercising outdoors and have some momentum going, a slip and fall may have serious consequences including strains, sprains, and fractures.1
The first step in preparing for these winter challenges is appropriate footgear. Old walking or running shoes that have lost most of their tread should be avoided.2 Your footgear should fit comfortably and be able to accommodate thicker socks without being tight and constricting.
The next step is to create additional input and stimulation to your body’s proprioceptive system, which is made up of specialized nerve endings that give you awareness of your position in three-dimensional space. Enhanced function here leads to improved agility and balance.3 One way to augment this system is to put a bend in your knees when you expect to encounter slippery surfaces. The increased knee flexion provides for a greater range of musculoskeletal responses to sudden changes in the environment, in this case, the ground you’re walking or running on.
A third step is to raise your level of awareness. You might be firm and sure on your legs but others may not be so steady. Pedestrians or runners may slide into you, as may bicyclists and skateboarders. It’s especially important when crossing intersections to be aware of automobiles and trucks which may not brake as expected and represent substantial dangers.
Finally, remember that the winter air, when it’s not snowing, is especially dry and your body will leak moisture into the atmosphere. Drinking a full six to eight glasses of water every day will effectively counter this silent phenomenon of dehydration. Having undertaken these few precautions and preparations, you’re ready for a winter full of activity, exercise, and outdoors fun.