It’s Baaaa’aaack – weathering the rest of winter

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    The boardwalk in Huff Park is covered with snow. Photo by Tina Kleinert.

    Living in Michigan means experiencing all the seasons, sometimes in the same week! Keeping your body moving in all seasons is paramount to overall wellness—and thinking outside of four insulated walls has its own benefits, as well.

    Getting outdoors in winter provides fresh air, a dose of Vitamin D, and an antidote to seasonal depression, plus it lacks some of the nuisances of summer, such as ticks and mosquitos, and excessive heat that can sap energy and leave you in a pool of sweat.

    In short: a winter workout is invigorating. And, it can be as simple as a walk around the neighborhood—with a friend, with your partner, or on your own with a favorite playlist or podcast. If you’re looking for something a little more exciting, you could take up winter hiking, cross-country or downhill skiing, or snowshoeing. Before you burst out the front door, though, consider these tips for getting the most enjoyment out of your excursion.

    What to Wear
    What you put on requires a bit more planning than if you’re just going from the house to the car to the store or work. You’ll be exposed to cold temperatures for a longer period, so you’ll need layers. Depending on the conditions, you might start with a base layer, such as Cuddl Duds® or Smartwool® tops and bottoms. A lightweight vest in-between helps warm your core, while waterproof snow pants keep your nethers dry and toasty. On milder days, lined joggers or windbreaker pants over leggings or long johns can be enough.

    For your head and face (and nose!), a balaclava, or ski mask, does the job of a hat and scarf, and you can also combine it with a moisture-wicking knit cap, headband, or earmuffs. To protect your hands and feet, double up with a light liner inside and thicker gloves, mittens, and socks outside.

    Over it all, you’ll want an insulated coat, whether down or synthetic filled. A parka style will keep your entire torso warm, but a shorter jacket will work just as well with other protective layers. The important part is that it’s breathable, because, believe it or not, you’ll probably heat up. To hood or not to hood? It depends on your preference, but a hood does allow you to quickly and easily cover and uncover to your comfort level.

    “Be Bold, Start Cold,” says Jon Holmes of Bill & Paul’s Sporthaus. “Dressing for activity in the winter can be intimidating. Wear too much and you’ll sweat—and eventually get cold because you’re damp. Wear too little and you’ll never get warm. By using multiple layers rather than bulky jackets and pants, you can add or remove items as your temperature changes throughout your walk.”

    Let’s not forget hiking boots. This is not an area where any winter boot will do. At a minimum, you’ll want your choice to be above the ankle, water resistant, insulated, and supportive—and with rubber lugged soles. Getting fitted by a professional at a local outdoor recreation stores is recommended.

    How to Stay Safe
    If you’re dressed in the right attire, you’ve protected yourself from many of the risks of winter outdoor activities. But, with slick walkways and slushy terrain, losing traction and taking a spill is also a concern. Walking poles, crampons, and boots with good-gripping soles will help keep you upright, and hand and foot warmers can come to the rescue if things get overly frigid.

    What’s considered too cold? That varies by who you ask—and also your personal tolerance. Kettering Health advises that -18 degrees Fahrenheit or lower can put you at risk for frostbite or hypothermia. Above that, it’s mostly about how well you dress and paying attention to the windchill factor.

    Another important element to consider is keeping your bearings and knowing your setting so you don’t get lost. Make sure your phone is charged, and use a paper map or trail app, such as AllTrails, to stay on your path. Consider buddying up if you’re going deep into the woods, or at least tell someone where you’re going. A personal alarm that emits a loud siren can alert others to your location if you do lose your way. And, stick to daylight hours.

    Where to Go
    You’re suited up. Now what? This is the fun part, because greater West Michigan is abundant with paths and trails to explore. Paved and partially paved walkways with little to no elevation are an ideal place to start for beginners. Riverside, Millennium, Ken-O-Sha, Donald J Lamoreaux, and Roselle Parks are pretty easy to tackle, as is the Reeds Lake Loop. For more of a challenge, check out Provin Trails, Pickerel Lake – Rockford, Cascade Peace Park, Seidman Park, Grand Ravines, Aman Park, and Crahen Valley.

    This are just a few. There are more favorite spots around town that also offer equipment rentals. Wittenbach Wege and Blandford Nature Centers rent snowshoes for use on their trails, while Pigeon Creek Park has both cross-country skis and snowshoes to rent. Palmer Park and the adjacent Kaufman Golf Course have cross-country ski trails as well, and skis can be rented at the clubhouse.

    If you know where you want to go, but just need equipment, head to Bill & Paul’s Sporthaus for snowshoe, downhill ski, and cross-country ski rentals. Or, let GR Outside, an extension of Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation, hook you up via their gear library. They have a huge selection of items, from clothing to boots to snowshoes to hiking poles to backpacks—and more. If you’re not sure you’ll like an activity, then trying before you invest fully in it is a smart choice.

    “Going outside has so many mental and physical benefits, but it isn’t as simple or achievable for everyone,” says Sam Truby of GR Outside. “We offer ‘pay what you can’ rentals and we host events to help people try new things. Follow along this winter for our free sledding events, winter walks, and fat-tire bike rentals.”

    Whatever you do, and wherever you go, know that by staying active and being outside in winter is contributing to your overall wellbeing.

    Sidebar:

    Get Motivated by Joining a Group
    Local recreation groups are just a search away, whether on Facebook or Meetup, or through your favorite outdoor shop’s info page. Getting bundled up and heading out can be more appealing if you have friendship building and good conversation to look forward to. You can also gain knowledge from other, more seasoned members who likely have tips on clothing, gear, and techniques. It may take a few tries to find the right group that suits your personality and your experience level, but every step you take is a step toward better health.

     

     

     

     

     

     

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