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Getting Outside in Winter

Four years ago, when I moved to Madison from North Carolina, I quickly realized that winter would never be the same for me. Although I knew the Wisconsin winters would be a completely new and challenging experience, I didn’t fully understand the impact it would have on my life. Contrary to what I thought, I quickly fell in love with winter. My favorite is a fresh snowfall. Something about the veil of beautiful white covering everything and the still silence that accompanies it. I have to say that the greatest challenge is the lack of sun and the length and severity of the cold. I’ve also realized that the worst thing you can do to combat the winter blues is to lock yourself inside. There is no better way to face winter than to head outside and get in the middle of it!

The major factors that influence health stay true through the winter. That means eating right, exercising, spending time in nature, and boosting your emotional well-being. Winter should be no exception. So here are some of the things I’ve learned that help to make winter not only fun, but also healthy and they all involve getting outside.

A Whole New World
Winter brings with it the majesty and mysticism of a snowy landscape that turns a once familiar area into a winter wonderland. It also brings about major changes in the natural world as animals and plants adjust to the snow and cold. A regularly frequented stream looks completely different than it does in summer, and has its own unique winter beauty.

Parks in general are especially beautiful in winter and many allow you to take advantage of a wide range of winter sports. And since winter is usually underrated, you will most likelyhave the park to yourself or at least a drastically reduced amount of visitors. With the proper clothing and gear, you can explore and discover an entirely new natural world in the winter.

Exercise
Instead of locking yourself inside on the couch, try layering up and going for a nice brisk walk or bike ride. Daily exercise is important no matter what time of year it is, but in the winter it’s especially hard to stay motivated. The excuses are easy to come by when it’s frigid and staying inside where it’s warm is very appealing, but research shows that the extra hassle is worth it, not just because exercise is essential for good health, but because getting outside and moving in the winter is actually extra beneficial for both adults and kids. From improving your mood to burning more calories than exercising in other seasons, winter exercise brings a host of benefits.

Sunlight
Although there is no guarantee it will be a sunny day, there is a much better chance to catch some rays outside than behind the walls of your abode. Seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called the wintertime blues, is a form of depression most common in the winter. The most common treatment is bright light therapy, which simulates the beneficial effects of natural sunlight.
It’s not a direct replacement for sunlight, but vitamin D supplementation can also help to combat seasonal affective disorder. Sunlight and its UV rays stimulate the body to create (by synthesization of a form of cholesterol in the body) vitamin D2 & D3 (actually a hormone, not a vitamin). For some support throughout the winter, try one of the varieties of vitamin D supplements available in the wellness department.

Winter Sports
All of this sounds great but it is still extremely difficult to get motivated to get outside when the outside temperature is hovering around 0ºF. The best motivation I’ve found is to find a winter sport that you truly enjoy and will get you outside no matter the weather. The first step is getting the right gear. REI is the largest retail cooperative in the nation and it just so happens that they specialize in getting people outside. They are your perfect one-stop outfitter for all your outdoor adventures. They will certainly help you to get the right gear. Then all you have to do is layer up, find a friend, expert or class to learn about your new winter sport of interest and head outside.

I’ve been a backpacker for quite some time and love to hike no matter what the conditions. A quiet, secluded winter hike is incredible! Aside from my survival kit, water and lots of layers, I always bring along a backpacking stove, a lightweight pot and some tasty treats to warm myself up. You can find some dehydrated soups and veggies in the bulk aisle at Willy Street Co-op, as well as some soba noodles to make a quick trail lunch that warms you to the core. It doesn’t hurt to bring some of your favorite tea or hot chocolate either! Whatever your choice, make sure to take a break and warm yourself from the inside out. This is true whether you’re snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing or snowboarding, winter biking, ice skating, sledding, ice fishing, snowmobiling or just winter camping. There is truly something for everyone!

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