Alberta Cancer Foundation

Chill With Winter

When winter comes around, people fall into a trap – they can go into hibernation mode,” says Christian Gannon, owner of Body Architects personal fitness and a certified personal trainer in Edmonton. “It’s a natural instinct.” Gannon works with a wide variety of clients of varying fitness levels. He hears all sorts of rationales about why people procrastinate with getting their sweat on. “Holidays are no excuse,” he says, citing the punctuation of seasonal and personal holiday time, as the biggest culprit for sabotaging a winter workout regime. “And then many people think they’ll tie-in a new program with the new year, but 95 per cent of new year’s resolutions fail.”

But heading to the gym may not inspire you. Maybe it’s time to think outside the box. With many fun outdoor winter activities right at your doorstep in Alberta. It’s just a matter of choosing which ones you want to include in your winter routine. Most communities have active and welcoming outdoor clubs, or specific winter-sporting clubs for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, walking or downhill skiing, offering low-cost memberships and regularly scheduled group outings as well as après-ski-skate-snowshoe socials.

Diane Duckett, a director of the Calgary Ski Club, says the club has been actively organizing winter activities since 1935 for a minimal membership fee. There are several winter activities listed on its website – from snowshoeing to cross-country skiing to downhill skiing – available right in the city.

Like Gannon, Duckett wishes more people would ditch the excuses, bundle up and get out the door. And don’t keep your enthusiasm to yourself! Working out with a group motivates you to stick with a fitness program. Encourage your family, co-workers or friends to join in. They’ll be glad you did.

Walk the Walk
Walking is an ideal winter fitness option. Generally, you don’t need any special equipment, it’s free, there’s no learning curve to endure, and you can do it anywhere and anytime. It’s an excellent low-impact activity for all fitness levels. Consider wearing hiking boots, both for warmth and better traction on snow and icy patches.

If worries about slipping and falling are keeping you indoors in the winter, try Nordic walking. Sometimes called “ski walking,” Nordic walking simply involves a pair of hip-to-waist-high ski poles. The poles not only give you much better stability for striding on snow or even ice, but they engage your arms and torso, offering a greater overall workout than regular walking. Nordic walking is also good for taking pressure off of problem knees, hips, and ankle joints.

Get off the packed trails in a pair of snowshoes; Duckett says it’s very popular at the moment. No longer the clumsy, teardrop-shaped baskets of yore, snowshoes are ultra-light, streamlined metals and nylon webbing, making this one of the easiest winter outdoor activities to learn. Go at your own pace, from an easy-going outing to an intense cardio workout. (Snowshoe running is a niche sport for winter enthusiasts. Try the Blitz 5K Fun Run at Mount Norquay at the end of February each year.) Snowshoeing is best in wide-open spaces on fresh, unpacked snow. The City of Edmonton and Calgary both list public parks and areas for snowshoeing on their websites.

Skating is a classic outdoor activity, ideal for families or groups of friends. Most city skating venues have indoor change rooms, bathrooms and rinks that are lit for evening skating parties. With a little music wafting from the outdoor speakers, you won’t even know you are exercising. For those who want to feel the burn, head to an outdoor speed-skating oval for a faster-paced glide along the ice. Shinny hockey, also known as pick-up hockey, is informal, non-competitive, no-contact hockey for players of all ages. Both Edmonton and Calgary city websites list shinny hockey schedules, locations and rules.

With huge improvements in equipment and ski options closer to home than you might think, downhill (alpine) skiing is a social sport to consider that embraces winter. “Downhill skiing is once again popular after losing ground to snowboarding for a decade, beginning in the mid-1990s,” Duckett says. Both sports are fun, social and a great winter workout. Edmonton has three hills for downhill skiing and snowboarding right in the greater metropolitan area: Rabbit Hill, Snow Valley and the Edmonton Ski Club. Edson is home to Silver Summit. Of course, Calgary has Canada Olympic Park and the Rockies right at its doorstep.

If you want to take your winter workouts up to another level, try cross-country (Nordic) skiing, one of the best all-round aerobic activities. It involves your arms, core and legs, so you’ll get your heart working and the sweat pouring in no time. Beginners, don’t be scared: you can also do the “shuffle” on your skis and enjoy the trails at a more tranquil pace. It is also a great sport that builds balance, which is a key – though often neglected – aspect of fitness. The City of Edmonton sets and maintains dozens of groomed cross-country ski trails in the city every winter. Tracks at Kinsmen Park, Gold Bar/Goldstick and Snow Valley are lit in the evening for safe after-work and evening expeditions. The City of Calgary maintains three groomed cross-country ski trails in the city and, with the Canmore Nordic Centre less than an hour’s drive away, there are spectacular options to enjoy the snow-covered alpine landscape.

Pets often get left indoors when the snow flies, but dogs need a winter workout too. Skijoring is cross-country skiing with your medium to large-sized dog attached to you by a special pulling harness. It’s not for the faint of heart, but there are skijoring groups in Edmonton and Calgary that can help you and your pooch learn to skijor and fly along the trails.

Getting outside for exercise will also keep you fit – physically and mentally – during Alberta winters. Outdoor exercise keeps you energized during the day and helps regulate wake-sleep cycles, which can get thrown off by the lack of daylight. And it’s possible to learn to love winter as you make tracks in the fresh snow.

Check out skijoring in Alberta:

A winter workout starts with a bit of planning. Check the weather, not just temperature but wind chill, before heading out. Dress for the wind chill temperature, which is a more accurate indicator of how your body will feel outside. Always let someone know your route and your estimated time of return if you’ll be heading out solo. Better yet, go with a group. There are walking, running, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and even downhill skiing groups in most cities in the province.

Rather than a bulky parka for warmth, think about layering up. A good base layer of long underwear and a long-sleeve undershirt, followed by fleece layer, and then a winter wind-proof shell gives you more options to regulate your body’s temperature than just one heavy top layer. You heat up quickly as you exercise, but you’ll also cool down quickly if you stop for a breather. Prices on winter wear vary widely.
Wear bright colours with reflective components or add your own reflective tape. Unless you can get away for a midday workout, you’ll need to think about staying visible in the dark Alberta winter. Roll of reflective tape: $5.
Don a pair of UVA/UVB sunglasses to cope with the glare off winter snow. Don’t forget to slather on the SPF. Yes, even in winter. According to the Canadian Dermatological Association (CDA), snow reflects up to 80 per cent of the sun’s rays, so you can actually get a double dose when you’re out in the winter. Health Canada advises at least an SPF of 15 on exposed skin while doing outdoor winter sports, And the CDA recommends at least SPF-enhanced lip protection applied hourly. Lip balm: $3.
One of the most neglected aspects of winter workouts is hydration. Winter air, as your hair, skin and nails will constantly remind you, is desert-dry. Drink water before, during, and after your activity. In the cold weather, we tend not to have the same cues from our brains to keep drinking. If a slug of cold water doesn’t appeal to you during or after exercise, caffeine-free herbal teas are a cozy, warming alternative. Water bottle: $5 to $10.
Like snow chains for your shoes and boots, slip some traction on over your fave winter footwear and get a grip on snow and ice. Prices range from $20 to $55.
An all-weather emergency whistle that won’t freeze up is an investment at a mere $4.
The City of Calgary has developed a smart-phone application with the city’s walking and bike path routes, which include trail closures and weather and trail conditions, to help you plan a successful outing. Best part? It’s free.
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