Ahh, winter! Shorter days. Frigid temperatures. Foul weather. What better time to be outdoors?
Winter sports can help you burn calories, increase your cardiovascular fitness, and strengthen muscles. Activities that are weight-bearing (like cross-country skiing or skating) help build stronger and denser bones.
Being outdoors and getting exercise are great for your mental health. Exercise boosts mood, and sunlight seems to help beat back the winter blues. So slap on some sunblock (yes, you'll need it!) and go.
If you're not a winter sports lover and need some convincing, there's this: staying in shape during the winter gets you physically ready for springtime activities (and wardrobes).
Winter is a great time to experiment with new sports. The trick is to find one that matches your interests and natural abilities. If you like to walk, keep walking — on snowshoes. If you want to try an endurance sport, go for cross-country skiing. And snowboarding is just plain fun.
Alpine (downhill) skiing isn't as hard as it used to be — shorter, lightweight, curved skis make any beginner feel like an Olympian. These newer skis — along with another type of equipment called skiboards, which are even shorter than skis — help you control your speed and body movements.
Consider testing the latest high-tech skis or snowboards. Check with your local sports shop or the rental places at ski mountains about demo programs.
You could also try sledding. Or, if you prefer ice to snow, think hockey or figure skating.
Runners can also train during the winter, although beware of wet or slippery roads. Or slip on a pair of snowshoes. One of the easiest sports around, snowshoeing can be excellent cold-weather cross-training for runners and cyclists — or anyone wanting to take a wintry walk in the woods. Snowshoes are smaller, lighter, and better than ever. If you want to try them out, you may be able to rent a pair for a day at many of the larger outdoor or sporting goods stores.
Whatever sport you choose, don't rely on a friend for instruction. You wouldn't let an amateur perform brain surgery on you; why let one teach you to ski or skate? That's what instructors are for — to help newcomers start out right. Instructors can give you advice about equipment, techniques, safety, and dealing with injuries if they do happen to you.
It's tempting for an eager athlete to advance too quickly through learning the ropes. Resist the temptation. If you want to progress, invest your time in learning the basics thoroughly. Everything else you do as a skier, boarder, or skater will be built on these first skills.
Play safely by figuring out what special equipment and safety gear you'll need. Planning an afternoon of snowshoeing or cross-country skiing? Pack water, snacks, fruit, and extra socks. If you're going out for a long time, keep your water bottle insulated from the cold so it doesn't freeze.
Regardless of how you get down a snow-covered slope, always watch for obstacles such as rocks, tree branches, and other people.
Don't head out onto the slopes or into remote country areas alone. Always go with a buddy and tell a friend what time you plan on returning. If you get in trouble and don't show up when you are supposed to, your friend has your back.
Take these precautions before you venture outside:
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014
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