Snowshoeing: A Great Winter Workout

It is a well-known fact that exercise is beneficial for all age groups.  Particularly in the aging Baby Boomer population in Canada, it can be a critical step in maintaining independence, a better quality of life and preventing injuries such as falls.  While many people in our climate stop exercising outside during the winter months, there are many great outdoor winter activities that can keep you active and enjoying this time of year.  One such activity that has exploded in popularity is snowshoeing.

Snowshoeing has come a long way from the wood-and-rawhide days, although this old-style equipment still works and appeals to the traditionalist.  Today’s snowshoes are made of lightweight aluminum, with sturdy straps to hold you in place, narrow profiles so you don’t have to walk bow-legged, and cleats on the bottom that grip on the ice and hard-packed snow.  The purpose of the snowshoe is to disperse your body weight over a greater area, minimizing the depth that you’ll sink into the snow and making it easier to get around.  The modern improvements in design have made this appeal to a wider audience as the shoes are easier to wear, get on and off, and transport.  Users soon discover that, depending on the snow conditions, snowshoes can allow you to hike or even run along trails that otherwise would only be used in the warmer months.  In the area we live, we have a multitude of these trails to choose from right in our backyard.

While few studies have been conducted on snowshoeing specifically, those that have show it is a valid means to improve or maintain cardiovascular endurance, and it can be a significantly more strenuous exercise than using a treadmill.  There are four types of exercise that, when combined, will give you improved results:  1) Endurance, which raises your heart rate, 2) Strength, which builds muscles, 3) Balance, which reduces your risk for falls, and 4) Flexibility, which keeps the body limber through proper warm-up and stretching.  A good snowshoeing excursion covers all four of these exercise types, making it an excellent full-body workout in the winter. 

Modern equipment is worth using, but can be pricey, so you might consider looking for a good second-hand pair or renting shoes from a ski shop, which are often found where groomed and marked trails can be used.  When you set out, it is important to dress in layers and wear synthetic fibres.  You may be surprised at how hot you can get out on a trail, and multiple layers allow you to adapt to the temperature, without absorbing perspiration like a sponge.  For the same reason, begin with a pair of warm mitts, but bring along some thin gloves to put on when you heat up.  As with any exercise, bring and drink plenty of water.  It is a good idea to carry a knapsack with an extra water bottle, some extra socks and a dry shirt, and of course some binoculars or your camera for the nature and wildlife you’ll be exploring close-up.  As always, consult your doctor before starting any exercise program, and warm up slowly and stretch the leg, back and arm muscles you’ll be using for the activity.

In general, exercise will help you sleep better, have more energy, and maintain a healthy weight while decreasing aches and pains, giving you an improved sense of wellbeing.  These are all benefits that we need year-round, so whether you prefer to snowshoe, ski, snowboard or curl, don’t neglect to give yourself some exercise this winter.