Winter is here, and much of the United States has already experienced Mother Nature in full force. Snow, sleet and freezing rain have led to closed roads, canceled flights, and messy commutes. And it's only December. Despite winter's shorter days and longer nights, many find delight in the unique activities that are available this time of year. Some find bursts of energy in in cooler temperatures when there is no longer a risk of overheating. Harvard Health has found that there are benefits to working out in colder temperatures, including increased fat burn and a more efficient workout.
Winter activities offer plenty of options to stay in shape. Of course there are countless indoor activities to keep you moving this winter – like yoga, tennis, swimming and zumba classes – but there's something special about exercising in the outdoors. Whether you are an experienced skier, an avid ice skater or ready to try something more ambitious, let us inspire you to get a little exercise this winter. If you are fortunate enough to live in a more temperate climate, where skiing is only something people do on TV, we hope you will enjoy these winter’s pleasures vicariously.
At any age, it’s never too late to try something new!
From bunny slopes to triple black diamonds: the king of winter activities
It’s nothing new to see seniors still skiing at 70. And why not? Retirees can take advantage of weekdays with relatively empty slopes while avoiding school groups and families that make for long lift lines on weekends. Many resorts actually offer special pricing for seniors. Better yet, some resorts have greatly reduced or free lift tickets for seniors!
Slalom (or “downhill”) skiing has many benefits. According to the University of New Hampshire, skiing “involves physical, mental, social and emotional aspects of wellness.” It can combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), and may prevent aging by improving balance and strengthening your knees and bones, as a weight-bearing activity. This helps prevent osteoporosis and increases proprioceptive strength.
Best of all, skiing engages your senses and makes you feel truly alive. The sound of wind whistling past you, the fresh scent of pine trees, and the feeling of a cold snowflake melting on your face are all a part of the thrill skiers experience on the slopes. Coupled with breathtaking scenery from the top of your chairlift, it's no wonder why research has found that there is a link between skiing and happiness. Being able to hear well is especially important for your safety on the slopes, as you can’t always see who is coming from behind you.
Cross-country skiing offers a great workout
If you're cross-country skiing for the first time, it might take a little bit of practice to teach yourself the motions, but once you do it’s quite easy to master. In Scandinavia, where cross-country skiing is common in the winter months, people often bring chocolate to enjoy half-way through their workout. After all, cross-country skiing is actually a great workout for the legs, core and arms. So why wouldn't they reward themselves for that? We just hope they're taking plenty of water to stay hydrated, too.
Given enough snow, cross-country skiing doesn’t require much. Skiers should just remember these few tips:
Wear layers. You can get quite warm, even on a very cold day.
Wax your skis so they glide well.
If you are going somewhere new, bring a printed map. Don't rely on your cell phone's GPS. Often woodsy areas can get poor reception or your battery could die.
Don’t forget sunscreen. It may seem like an oxymoron to need sunscreen in the winter, but light reflected from the snow can put your skin at risk of sunburn.
Looking for winter fun? Combine snowshoes, skis and sleighs
Snowshoeing offers people of all ages a chance to experience the fresh winter air without the need for expensive gear (although you’ll need snow pants, snow shoes and boots). Snowshoes have long helped people traverse safely in snow and icy conditions and may cause a tinge of nostalgia for those who grew up in the woodsy areas of the north. . Best of all, with snowshoeing comes the crunch sound of crisp snow on the ground.
If you want to try either snowshoeing or cross country skiing, Road Scholar, a non-profit tour operator known for experiential learning, offers a “Choose Your Pace” six day program in the Adirondacks. Formerly known as Elderhostel, Road Scholar built the foundation of its business around active trips for seniors. Their programs offer lessons, lodging and the option to add other active-adventure opportunities such as outdoor survival lessons and skate-skiing. They also offer the option to combine cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Sylvania Wilderness Area and Wyoming. Their Wyoming trip even combines snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and dog sledding!
Ice fishing for fun and sustenance
Those who seek a different kind of sport should consider ice fishing. You will need some equipment (and elbow grease) to drill a hole in the ice and, of course, fishing gear, but you may just end up with a delicious and nutritious fresh catch for lunch at the end of the day. For tips on catching fish hiding under the ice, Field & Stream can offer tactical help.
Of course, safety is the utmost concern, so make sure you know the lake or pond is frozen. Keeping in mind that ice is never 100% safe, Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources advises that a minimum of 4 inches of ice is enough depth for ice fishing. Moreover, they advise that you check the ice's thickness at least every 150 feet you travel. You may also need a fishing license in your area, so be sure to look into that before getting out there.
The Fly Rod Shop in Stowe, Vermont offers guided ice fishing half-day trips for people of all ages and abilities. If a day-trip sounds too short, Ballard’s Resort offers a variety of multi-day ice-fishing adventures in Minnesota, Iowa and both Dakotas. Programs include transportation, lodging, meals and fishing.
Most importantly, fish is very healthy, and nothing tastes like a freshly caught meal. Now that's farm-to-table dining!
Spin like Dorothy Hamill, skate like Wayne Gretzky
Do you remember the iconic moment when Peggy Fleming won the only gold medal that the US earned in the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, France? Or maybe you cut your hair in the early 1970s to match Dorothy Hamill? Although Fleming has hung up her skates at 63 years old, Dorothy Hamill still skates for fun. The good news is that you can, too.
Experienced skaters who want to take the cobwebs off the old hockey stick are in luck. Across the country (even in warmer climates) you'll find ice rinks that host hockey leagues for people over 40 as well as people over 70. But if you're new to skating, hockey might be something you'll want to consider taking up only after you get your basic skills down.
Recreational ice skating can be a relatively inexpensive way to stay in shape, and you can do it all over the country. If you are worried about falls, you may want to find a rink that offers skate trainers – which look like walkers and are designed to prevent falls on the ice. If you haven’t tried skating before, or haven’t done it in years, it’s advised that you use figure skates instead of hockey skates while you are getting used to being balanced on the ice, and possibly take a lesson or two.
The sport with the fun(ny) pants: curling, anyone?
Are you interested in taking up curling? The Canadian sport that captivates people every four years at the Winter Olympics for their interesting outfits, curling is gaining popularity. Believe it or not, across the country, yes – even in Hawaii – you can find a curling club if you want to get started. As all team sports do, curling requires great communication skills.
Don’t try this if you’re afraid of heights (or falling)
Adrenaline junkies may be happy to know that anyone can take up ski jumping. Several ski resorts and training centers have ski jumps designed for newbies. Although most people start ski jumping in elementary school, in theory anyone can learn it. For most of us, ski jumping will be purely a spectator sport, but isn’t it great to know that there are folks who are willing to push themselves to try new things?
For traditionalists: tips for running, walking, swimming and biking in the snow
Of course, you may prefer to enjoy the winter breeze from the comfort and ease of your own neighborhood. Whether you’re walking, biking or running in the winter, the advice is pretty similar: dress in layers with temperature-appropriate clothing, and if you are out at night, make sure you have reflective clothing and a light. Keep an eye out for patches of ice. If you are walking in questionable weather, you may wish to use trekking poles.
Swimmers who aren’t afraid of the cold can enjoy outdoor winter swimming, even in New England. Idaho City Hot Springs takes outdoor swimming a step further, offering poolside beverage and food service.
At any time of year, whenever you are walking and running near traffic, remember that it is safer to not listen to music so you can hear traffic, bicycles or even other pedestrians.
Finally, remember, that even though you may be exercising in cooler temperatures, stay hydrated.
Don’t be afraid to try a new winter activity
As people are focusing more on wellness, it’s good to know that during the winter, our bodies burn more calories than when exercising in the heat. Some senior athletes continue competing into their 90s.
Of course, you should not take up any new exercise without speaking with your healthcare provider, especially if your body isn't used to vigorous exercise. Remember to dress appropriately. If you try any of these activities, we'd love to hear from you. Share your photos to our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages. Have fun this winter!