Winter hiking is not only fun. It’s actually healthy, too.
The conversation was the same one we have every Thanksgiving. And Christmas. And New Year’s.
I looked at my brother across the table.
“So,” I said, “what time should I pick you up?”
“Pick me up? For what?” he asked
“For hiking, It gets dark sooner now than before, but if I come out early enough we can still hit a trail or two, get in a few miles,” I answered,
That’s when the eye rolling, the head shaking, the smirking, the commands to just go away, started.
My brother, as I well know, is not a hiker, despite my best efforts to get him into the woods. To him, the thought of wandering a forested path in the chill that marks this season is especially appalling.
He’s missing out.
Walking the spare, yet beautiful, cold and snowy woods is fun, even invigorating, and good for you, too.
Consider these five reasons for hiking in winter.
It’s easy to pack on pounds starting with the holidays. With all the decadent foods – holiday pies, hello – and potential for lots of sitting around, weight gain is inevitable without exercise
Winter hiking is the answer.
Researchers from the University of Albany found that outdoor winter exercise – hiking in particular – burns more calories than comparable exercise in warmer weather.
Men studied burnt 20 percent more calories when hiking in temperatures between 14 and 23 degrees compared to when they hiked in temperatures in the 50s. So, too, did women.
That’s because your body’s metabolism spikes to deal with the cold. It stays high for hours after your return home, too.
Develop good fat
Humans produce several kinds of fat. Two are worth thinking about.
First there’s white fat, which is the stuff making your love handles, well, easy to get a grip on. Too much of it leads to obesity and associated diseases, like diabetes and heart disease.
But brown fat, researchers now say, actually burns calories. It burns up what’s stored inside you to help regulate body temperature.
Developing more brown fat and activating it to get those benefits, though, requires cold temperatures.
So you can try sleeping at night by turning down the thermostat to the 50s and tossing the blankets off the bed or you can get outside in winter and walk around a bit.
Getting outside in winter also helps combat seasonal affective disorder, which is depression related to decreasing amounts of winter daylight.
Symptoms of the illness include moodiness, trouble sleeping, and a general lack of energy, among others.
Hiking in winter – combining exposure to light with exercise – can ward all that off. Hikes need not be especially long or strenuous either. A 30-minute daily walk through a local park can bring real benefits.
Exposure to winter sun helps your body built up its supply of Vitamin D, too.
All those mosquitoes that can make summer hiking a challenge? They’re gone, and good riddance.
The same isn’t necessarily true for ticks, unfortunately. Despite what some think, they don’t go away just because the weather gets cold.
It’s possible to pick one up if there’s no snow on the thawed ground and temperatures are above freezing. Then, taking your normal tick precautions makes sense.
But if it’s really cold, frozen and snowy, the ticks are likely buried deep, hidden in leaf litter. Chances of encountering the vermin are slim.
And it’s just nice, quite frankly, to be able to walk around without having to worry about them.
Even among people who hike, some just hang up their gear when winter comes and wait for spring.
That’s too bad.
The sights, the sounds, the smells of hiking in the cold are different than those of warmer weather, to be sure. But they are nonetheless beautiful in their own way. And often, you can enjoy them on your own.
I think of one state park close to home. On summer weekends the main picnic areas, which also serve the jumping off points for a few trails, are generally packed. The chances to see or hear wildlife are accordingly slim given all the commotion.
Visit those same spots in winter, though, and the trails are often all yours.
So, I’ll keep working on my brother. Success will, as always, be hard to come by. I’m in a 30-year slump when it comes to getting him outdoors.
But in the meantime, I’ll be out there myself, trying to show him the winter light.
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