Did you make a New Year's resolution to stay in shape? Are you wondering how to keep it, now that it's freezing cold outside and you really don't want to start your outdoor jogging resolution when you're not even sure you can keep your footing on an icy sidewalk? It's easy! Many winter sports are even better than their summer counterparts at burning off calories. Put on a few layers of clothing, grab your hat and scarf, and discover for yourself how much fun staying in shape can be this winter.
#1. Cross-country skiing
When you think about hitting the slopes, you're probably thinking of downhill skiing. However, cross-country skiing is where the cardio benefits really kick in.
It also doesn't hurt that cross-country skiing engages most of the muscle groups in the body, from the shoulders and chest right down to the buttocks and legs. Once you've picked up solid cross-country technique, even those horrendous abs get a good workout. Overall, cross-country skiing gives you a more complete workout than just about any sports activity other than swimming.
While you're at it, your metabolic rate will also get a healthy rise, especially during power sprints. How does burning up to nine hundred calories an hour sound? Even at a more reasonable pace, you'll easily burn three hundred calories an hour, or even more. You'll take off the pounds from all those holiday feasts, and you'll look good doing it.
Cross-country skiing is also a great stress-buster. Ever wanted to get away from it all? Few places are better than the cross-country skiing trails. It's so peaceful and quiet in the backcountry, you may never want to leave.
Downhill skiing also has some health benefits. Mostly it really gives your back and lower muscles a real workout. Aerobically speaking, the high altitude of most alpine resorts doesn't hurt either. You'll have to work a lot harder when the air's that thin!
On the other hand, downhill skiing's got a much higher chance of immediate and long-term injury than cross-country skiing, and also a higher chance of permanent injury than most other sports. That's why it won't get its own category here. However, if downhill skiing is what rocks your boat, go for it!
Think winter soccer, but at a high-intensity pace that never lets up. You're constantly weaving, turning on a dime, physically blocking the other team, and sprinting down the ice after the puck. It's a nearly perfect combination of power skating, dexterity, and sheer stamina.
This is another excellent calorie burner. Hockey's so energy-intense, even professional hockey players play in short shifts. You'll be tired like you won't believe after the first few practices, but after that, your energy level and metabolism will go through the roof!
Every practice and game is also a solid cardio workout. At the same time, you'll be building bone and muscle strength in your arms, legs, and torso. All those split-second decisions will also help you to improve your physical and mental dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
There's been a lot of recent news about hockey concussions because of Sidney Crosby. However, you're not in that league. That means there's several easy ways to avoid the risk of concussion while playing hockey. Playing a friendly game of pickup hockey is one of the best ways. You could also join a league which does not allow body checking. Finally, wear a helmet. That's just common sense.
When you're having fun, you never even realize how many calories you're burning. Sledding's perfect for this. Best of all, you don't have to have any special skills or spend a lot of money to do it.
Going down the hill builds up balance and coordination. Trudging back up the hill builds bone and muscle strength in back, hips, thighs, and legs. The combination gets your heart pumping and your breath moving fast, and because it's so much fun, you'll keep it up longer than just about any other activity.
Sledding's got the added health bonus of laughter. There's nothing better for undoing the effects of stress.
For a different take on sledding, try pulling a loaded sled behind you the next time you're trekking into the backcountry on cross-country skis or snowshoes. You'll still get your workout, but you'll have an easier time keeping your balance than if you're carrying your backcountry supplies in a backpack. When you're pulling a sled on a hill, it goes behind you if you're working your way up the hill. If you're working your way down the hill, it goes in front of you. That challenges different muscle groups in each direction.
If you need to take a break, you can just stop pulling the sled for a bit. It's much harder to find a solid place to set down a backpack, especially if you're skiing in powder.
#4. Build a snowman
This is another fun no-cost winter activity that's excellent at keeping the whole family in shape. You'll work up a sweat and get a solid cardio and strength workout for nearly every major muscle group in your body without even realizing it! And you'll all be bonding and laughing while you're doing it.
Its only drawback is that you're limited by the amount of available snow and space. On the other hand, each time the weather melts your ultimate snowman, you can build a new one. For even more fun, get into a competition and see who can build the tallest snowman in the neighbourhood. You thought building a five-foot snowman was tough? Just wait until you try making a ten-foot snowman!
#5. Shovelling snow
Okay, so it's not technically a winter sport, but it's definitely a winter activity that keeps you in shape like very little else. It's also got the advantage that you don't have to pay anything or go anywhere special to do it. You'll actually be saving money. Just by leaving your snowblower in the garage, you'll be getting a full cardio workout for free every time it snows!
Shovelling snow builds bone and muscle strength in your arms and torso, and to some extent your hips and legs as well. As the winter progresses and the snowbanks get higher and higher, the amount of snow you're moving and the distance you're moving it also creeps upwards, just the same as a good strength training circuit. As the snow keeps coming, your endurance will benefit as well.
It's also a winter activity that's hard to cheat on. When the snow's coming down heavily, there's nothing easier than to look outside and decide against going to the gym. Well, that's not a possibility with snow shovelling. If you want to get the car out of the driveway, you've got to shovel the snow. That makes it a perfect complement to winter team sports, which are sometimes cancelled because of too much snow.
With all these sports and activities, remember that it is winter. If you don't dress right for winter, you're going to get very cold, and you could easily end up with frostbite on your face, fingers, or toes. Even if it's a day with no wind, you're going to have wind in your face when you get moving. At the same time, you're probably going to be working up a sweat.
That means that on top of the usual dressing in layers, you're going to need a good wicking material in your underwear and innermost layer to get the sweat away from your skin. You'll also need a scarf, hat, waterproof winter boots, and waterproof mittens to fend off cold wind and wet snow. If it's five degrees or so below freezing, consider wearing a balaclava.
Glasses are better than contacts when it comes to eye safety, but glasses also fog up as you start to work up a sweat. If it's cold enough, that fog freezes right on your lenses before you can even wipe it off. Before you head out into the cold, wipe the lenses of your glasses with a no-fog compound. It works wonders!
If you're starting to feel cold, call it quits for the day and head home. There'll be another time for healthy winter sports, but it won't come soon if you get sick!