Winter can be the perfect time to walk off weight—even if you’re not a snow bunny. Sticking with your usual exercise routine is one of the best ways to boost your chances of starting the new year a size smaller. If you’ve gotten used to walking outdoors all summer, switching to a different activity for cold weather in the winter can make your weight loss even more of a struggle, says John Jakicic, PhD, assistant professor in the weight control and diabetes research center at Brown University School of Medicine in Providence, RI.
Finding a new activity may mean organizing your day differently or doing something that you’re not as comfortable with—all during an already chaotic and stressful time. Research shows that people who lose weight and keep it off do so by exercising the equivalent of walking 3 to 4 miles a day. No matter what the weather, they find a way—and you can too. We’ll show you how to easily transition from fall to winter so that you can slim down—even during the holidays. You’ll look fantastic come spring, your bones will stay strong, and your walking muscles won’t be screaming when you head out for your first warm-weather jaunt.
because of the weather, you may be burning more calories. And trudging through snow or walking into the wind takes more energy.
Boldly into the cold Leave that old college sweatshirt in your closet. Instead, treat yourself to something new and fleecy. High-tech synthetic fabrics make a big difference in comfort; they’re worth the investment. You’ll be much happier and more energized if you’re warm and dry instead of sweaty and chilled. Cold weather requires some special preparation. Keep these tips in mind for winter walking:
- Allow at least 10 minutes to warm up. When it’s cold, your heart and muscles need more time to get ready.
- Wear a scarf or mask loosely over your nose and mouth to prevent the sting of icy cold air when you inhale. This is especially important if you have asthmaor heart problems. (More tips on How to Dress for Cold-Weather Workouts.)
- Choose shoes with lugged soles for traction, and buy an inexpensive pair of ski or walking poles to help keep your balance. (The poles will also help you burn extra calories because your upper body is getting a workout too.)
- Take your workout indoors if you’d be risking frostbite (temperatures around -20 degrees F, including any windchill), if it’s icy, or if you’d encounter dangerous traffic.
Dress for success When you step outside, you should feel slightly chilled but not cold. During your workout, you want to feel warm, not hot and sweaty. That means you need to dress in layers so that you can take them off or put more on as needed. Here are the basics of layering:
- An inner layer made of synthetic fabric such as CoolMax to wick sweat away so you stay dry
- A middle, or insulating, layer (or two) of light-weight fleece fabric such as Polartec to keep you warm
- An outer layer of waterproof, breathable fabric such as Gore-Tex to buffer you from the elements and let sweat escape; and
- Don’t forget a hat, gloves, and sunscreen!
Don’t let the cold stop you Still not convinced that winter walking is for you? Here are three ways to trick yourself into loving the season:
Enjoy a new world. Listen to the icy tree branches tinkling in the wind, or look for animal tracks in fresh snow. Found only during winter, these changes can keep you enthused.
Snow means “Go!” Strap on snowshoes or cross-country skis—two ways to “walk” on snow that can more than double your calorie burn. With all the return trips uphill, sledding counts too!
Use the Rule of 5. Tell yourself you can quit after 5 minutes. Chances are good that when you’re bundled up and out there, you’ll keep going. (If you still want to quit, go ahead—at least you did something.)
On the inside track
Your best winter weight loss partner may be your treadmill. In a study led by Dr. Jakicic, women who had a treadmill in their home lost twice as much weight as those without one.
Rather than skipping your walk if the weather’s bad or when it’s dark outside, you can hop on a treadmill anytime, even if you only have a few minutes. Plus, if your treadmill is in constant view, it serves as a visual reminder. ” Even if you decide to watch TV instead of exercising, being aware of your treadmill may make you less likely to snack,” Dr. Jakicic says. A treadmill also takes the guesswork out of working out. You can be accurate on how fast and far you’re walking, which allows you to better gauge your calorie burn and track your progress, says Bobby Kelly, creator of Treadmill Conditioning and owner of Results Only gym in Rockville, MD. Also, since walking is a natural movement, you may be more comfortable and better able to get a good workout than you would with an exercise machine that is unfamiliar to you.
Boredom busters Here are more ways to make a treadmill walking workout anything but routine:
Boogie away the miles. Create a tape of fast and slow songs. “Have fun with it—nobody has to know that you still love disco,” Kelly says. “Time will fly—and so will you—when you’re walking to your favorite beat.”
Deal yourself in. Using an old deck of cards, label the jacks a “sprint,” the queens a “hill,” the kings a “slow pace,” and the aces a “moderate pace.” Shuffle, flip one, do what it says for 1 minute, then flip another. Continue until you’ve completed your workout, reshuffling if needed, Kelly suggests.
Double up. Couples can still exercise together even with one treadmill. Do a series of three resistance moves such as biceps curls, squats, and ab crunches while your partner walks, then switch. Keep taking turns until you’ve both gotten in your workout.
Play a game.While watching TV, speed up when a commercial comes on. Or pick a character on your soap opera, and speed up for each 2- or 3-minute segment that she’s on-screen. [pagebreak]
Stuck at home
When the weather’s bad, you’re waiting for a phone call, or you’ve got a sick child or parent to care for—and no treadmill—fitting in your daily walk can be tough, but not impossible. (Here, get 7 Workout Ideas for Small Spaces.)
We asked Carol Espel, an exercise physiologist and general manager at Equinox Fitness Clubs in Scarsdale, NY, to develop an energy-building “walking” routine that you can do around the house.
This workout mimics walking movements and targets walking muscles. It’s a great way to maintain your flexibility and stay in tip-top walking form. Do each exercise the recommended number of times, then move to the next one. Repeat the entire sequence two or three times.
Leg circles. (Keeps the hips flexible and strong) Holding onto a wall for support, lift your right leg out in front of you, bending the knee to form a 90-degree angle. Your thigh should be parallel to the floor, as if you’re marching. Rotating at the hip, circle your leg to the right as far as possible. Don’t move any other part of your body. Slowly lower your leg, then bring it back to the forward position again. Do 10 to 12 circles. Repeat with your left leg.
Hip circles. (Keeps hips flexible and mobile—especially important for speed walkers) Stand about 2 feet from a wall, with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing forward. Lean into the wall, and place both hands on the wall for support. Bend your knees slightly, and circle your hips clockwise, as if you’re a belly dancer. Do 10 to 12 full circles, then rotate your hips counterclockwise.
Heel walks. (Strengthens the shins, an area that often gets sore when you resume walking, and helps with heel-toe technique) Walk by balancing on your heels only; your feet should be flexed and your toes pointing toward the ceiling. Do a lap around your living room.
Toe walks. (Strengthens the calves, and helps with heel/toe technique) Walk by balancing on the balls of your feet, heels off the floor. Do a lap around your kitchen or living room.
Windmills. (Keeps the shoulders flexible and agile—essential for a good arm swing—and trains you to keep your shoulders back and down) One at a time, circle each arm forward, up, back, and down. Alternate for 10 to 12 windmills with each arm, then reverse the direction.
For variety: Do the heel and toe walks with your heels or toes pointing a bit inward or outward–this targets the shin and calf muscles differently. You can also reverse the leg circles by lifting your legs up and out to the side first, then rotating forward and down. Also, consider adding aerobic clips such as climbing stairs or using the bottom step for a few minutes of step aerobics (pump up the intensity by adding arm movements).
Flex some muscle
Your thighs and butt have the largest primary muscles that propel you forward when you walk. Keep them strong with these three at-home exercises recommended by Memer Kladis, assistant director for The National Institute for Fitness and Sport in Indianapolis.
Step lunges. (Works the quadriceps, or front of the thighs) Facing a staircase, place your right foot on the bottom step and your left foot several feet behind you on the floor. Lower your body until your right leg forms a 90-degree angle. Make sure that your right knee stays over your ankle. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position, concentrating on pushing up through your right heel. Do one set of 8 to 12 reps before switching to your left leg.
One-legged curls. (Works the hamstrings, or back of the thighs) Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, your right knee bent, and your foot flat on the floor. Place your left foot on a standard-size kid’s ball (12 to 18 inches in diameter). Supporting yourself on your back, arms, and right leg, raise your pelvis a few inches off the floor. Digging your left heel into the ball, slowly curl it toward you. Pause, then slowly push the ball back, resisting the ground as you roll. Do one set of 8 to 12 reps before switching legs.
Pelvic tilts. (Works the gluteus maximus, also known as the butt) Lie on your back with your arms at your sides and your heels resting on a low stool, step, or box; your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Tighten your butt, and slowly lift your pelvis as high as is comfortable. Pause, then slowly lower without touching the floor. Repeat. Do 8 to 12 tilts.
Because the abdominals are core-stabilizing muscles used in walking, consider doing a set or two of crunches as well. And stretch all the muscles that you just worked. Doing any walking exercise will help you to stay in a routine—and keep your mind, muscles, and figure primed for springtime.