Health

Winter walking hazards

Tips to help you enjoy walking all season long

When the mercury plummets and the snow starts to fly, even the most dedicated walker can be tempted to hibernate for the season. But maintaining your regular walking routine will keep your fitness level high and ward off unwanted pounds and the winter blues. Use the following tips – along with a bit of caution and common sense – to manage winter’s greatest hazards and keep moving all season long.

Cold temperatures and biting winds

In extremely cold conditions, being chilled can make any outdoor workout miserable and can lead to hypothermia in the worst case scenario. “Walkers take longer to warm up than runners,” says Amanda Gutteridge, a competitive walker and area manager for the Running Room in Vancouver. Walkers typically need more layers of clothing along with a neck warmer, hat, gloves and a windproof jacket, she says. Wear moisture-wicking fabrics like Coolmax that keep your skin dry and warm, and go for top layers that can be unzipped so you don’t overheat. On the coldest of days, pull on a balaclava to protect your face.

“Choose routes that aren’t open and exposed,” adds Gutteridge. Walk in the shelter of a forest or alongside rows of large wind-blocking buildings. When you can’t avoid the wind, start by walking into it so you finish with it at your back pushing you home.

Poor visibility

Short winter days force many walkers to exercise in the dark of the morning or evening. High snow banks and blowing snow make it even trickier for cars to spot you. “You can’t wear too much reflective gear,” says Myrtle Jenkins-Smith, a Charlottetown walking coach. She recommends clothing with reflective strips, a reflective vest or adding ankle and wrist reflectors bands to your current gear.

You can eliminate the stress and dangers of walking in the dark by moving temporarily to an indoor track or joining a mall walking group. “Tell yourself to keep up your pace – and don’t window shop,” laughs Jenkins-Smith. “Even if it’s crowded and you have to slow down to dodge people, it’s better than not going at all.”

Slippery surfaces

Walking during a light snowstorm can be a joy, but ice creates a dangerous slipping hazard. You can shorten your stride and wear all-terrain shoes or traction devices, available at running specialty stores, but why risk falling? Instead, power up your home treadmill or invest in a pay-as-you-go membership at a local fitness club. “Walking on a treadmill is similar to outdoor walking,” says Gutteridge, “But it does some of the work for you, so add an incline of 1% or 2% to get the same intensity.”