Winter's brilliant scenery makes it a great time to get outside and try some exciting forms of exercise. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, for example, offer fantastic workouts for the whole family.
Even Grandma and Grandpa can get in on the fun because these cold-weather activities are ideal for folks of all ages and fitness levels.
Hitting a cross-country trail or hiking in snowshoes offers an effective workout without putting much stress on joints. Plus, the activities improve balance and work several muscle groups at once, burning calories fast.
Both sports are easy to learn, and any equipment needed can usually be rented. So whether you're tired of staring at the walls of your workout room or just looking to have fun, consider trying one of these winter activities that allow you to enjoy the peace, quiet and overall tranquility of nature.
Regarded by many as the best aerobic exercise, cross-country skiing eats up more calories in less time than almost any other form of fitness.
And because it's easy on joints like hips and knees, it's popular with people of any age. A recent study indicates that families and seniors are the fastest growing groups to give the sport a try.
Cross-country skiing requires narrow skis that help the user glide over snow in a walking fashion. Poles are held in each hand to propel the skier forward and maintain balance.
Most ski lodges and trails rent cross-country equipment, and many also include quick lessons to familiarize beginners with the basics. But if you have your own equipment, you can ski in your backyard, at a local park or almost anywhere.
An advantage of cross-country skiing for exercise is that the arms move in stride with the legs, working all major muscle groups at the same time.
Once you get started, ski at a pace that's good for you. Increase your heart rate by slowly working up to a higher intensity, but if you become breathless, slow down or take a break.
If you like to hike in the summer, snowshoeing might be the winter activity for you. Anyone can master snowshoeing. In fact, many enthusiasts say that if you can walk, you can snowshoe.
Snowshoes prevent people from sinking into the snow while hiking. Once clumsy contraptions, today's snowshoes are made from lightweight aluminum with a synthetic surface area that attaches to your own shoes or boots.
Some snowshoers use poles for extra balance, but they aren't always necessary. When renting snowshoes from a ski lodge or nature trail, ask whether or not poles are recommended.
Snowshoeing is nearly as gentle on the body as walking, and it can be as calm or as rigorous as you'd like. Those who want a more strenuous workout can leave the trail, hike at a speedy pace or both. Some even like to jog in their snowshoes.
If you're trying snowshoeing for the first time, follow a level path of lightly packed snow. Once you become familiar with walking in snowshoes, consider more challenging trails or carve out a route of your own.
No matter what activity you choose, begin by getting the nod from your doctor before you bundle up and head outside.
For comfort, wear several layers of clothing instead of one bulky restricting coat, and look for items made of wool or man-made fabrics that breathe well. Don't forget to wear warm socks and grab your favorite pair of gloves.
Always be sure to stretch before and after you exercise. And include a cool-down period before heading back indoors, so your heart rate can return to normal.
Do you live in a state that's too warm for winter sports? Stop by the gym and hop aboard a ski machine for a great workout that's sure to beat the winter doldrums.