Don't Let the Cold Keep you from Exercising Outdoors!

The realities of winter in Michigan can be summed up in 2 words; dark and cold. The holidays provide a great distraction, but then January hits and the reality sinks in… it is dark and it is cold.

Sure, there are plenty of places to workout inside, but did you know that time outdoors is essential to our well-being?

Time spent in “green space” or snow space” can improve our mental health, productivity and mood. Breathing fresh air encourages us to fully utilize our lungs, which sends more oxygen to our blood. More oxygen means heightened serotonin levels, which can improve our sense of happiness.

Here’s a few thoughts to motivate you to get you outside to enjoy Michigan’s beauty and get your natural serotonin boost!

Phone a Friend

Personally, this is the best motivation for me. I absolutely hate to miss a workout date with one of my friends. So, if we make a plan, I will be there! Thankfully, my friends also love to be outside. Outdoor activities like walking, hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing or running are great for socializing!

Make a Plan

As a trainer, this is the very first thing I tell my clients when they have a goal in mind. Failure to plan is a plan to fail. If you’re committed to get outside, then plan for it. Pick up the right gear, choose your activity, and pencil it in the calendar. Planning your workout in advance will dramatically improve the likelihood that they will happen.

Better yet, sign up for a spring event! Knowing that you have a race coming up that you need to train for can be a great motivation to get moving. Let the training begin!

Gear up!

What you are wearing can make or break your winter workout. There’s nothing worse than freezing fingers and toes or dripping sweat sweating under a heavy coat. So, don’t skimp here. Invest in the right winter gear. If you want to stay comfy as the temperature drops then here’s your three top fashion tips.

  1. Dress as if it’s 10 degrees warmer than the actual temp. That initial burst of cold air is the worst, so we tend to overdress. However, a few minutes after you start moving and your core temp heats up, you’ll be glad to have dressed a bit lighter.

  2. Wear layers. You’ll appreciate being able to easily remove layers when needed. A lightweight piece can be tied around the waist or tucked into a waistband without slowing you down. Start with your base layer of moisture-wicking fabric and work from there. Consider a wind blocking layer on top if it’s blustery outside.

  3. Always protect your head, fingers and toes. We lose a lot of heat through our head, so make sure to properly cover your ears and head. We don’t necessarily lose heat through the fingers and toes, but they sure do get cold fast, so invest in great gloves and good wool socks.

Cross Training for Athletes

For an athlete who competes in typical fair-weather activities like triathlon, biking and running, winter is prime time for cross training. Cross training allows us to gain strength by using different muscles than we do in our typical exercise routine. Cross training helps reduce injury and can make us a better athlete. Plus, it eliminates the brain drain and monotony of doing the same activity year round. Snow and the woods provide many fun cross training opportunities like hiking, fat biking, skiing or snowshoeing.

The Woods are calling

Naturalist, John Muir said, “the mountains are calling and I must go." What we lack in mountains in Michigan, we certainly make up for in trails and beautiful green spaces. Michigan has thousands of miles of diverse terrain trails, both paved and natural.

The woods are my favorite place for a wintertime outdoor workout because it is so peaceful, quiet and serene and the trees offer a break from the wind. Here in West Michigan you don’t have to drive far to get off the road and into the woods for your workout.

Here’s a list of local West Michigan wooded favorites for wintertime hiking, fat biking, skiing, trail running or snow shoeing. Make sure you to do some research for before you try out a new trail. Not all trails allow biking, skiing or dogs, and some are better than others for certain activities. Also, PLEASE be a good citizen to the trail and do not use unpaved trails when it’s wet and mucky – this can ruin the trail with footprints and divots.

  • Cascade Peace Park Trail – Almost 200 acres perfect for birding, walking, hiking, or running. Lots of different length loops, so great to bring kids and dogs too.

  • Seidman Park – there are several different hiking experiences in Seidman’s two parks. There’s also an orienteering course courtesy of Michigan Adventure Racing, which offers a fun challenge. The parking lot of Seidman is a good place to park for some local gravel road biking.

  • Luton Park – Originally designed for mountain-biking, Luton’s 10 miles of trails are also a popular place to visit for hiking, trail running, bird watching, cross country skiing and snow shoeing.

  • Cannonsburg – not just for downhill skiing or tubing, there are plenty of awesome trails here for biking, hiking, walking or snow shoeing. Cburg offers fun, unique activities for all age levels throughout the year, so make sure to follow them on Facebook!

  • Roselle Park – This nature preserve is flat and great for easy XC skiing, but no bikes allowed

  • Merrell Trail – if you like to offroad bike, Merrell is a must! It was designed for mountain biking, but great for hiking, running or walking too. Only go here when the ground is frozen!

  • Pigeon Creek – lots of wintertime activities, lighted and groomed trails for night skiing, separate snowshoe trails – and they offer both ski and show shoe rentals. The best part, according to the kids, is the lighted sledding hill!

  • Pickerel Lake – the 2+ mile trail around the lake is the perfect place to explore on skis, shoe shoes or by foot. No bikes or dogs allowed here.

  • White Pine Trail – Starting at North Park and spanning 92 miles to Cadillac, this flat, wide, mostly-paved rail-trail offers a place to get away from the traffic for some miles of biking, running or walking.

  • Check out West Michigan Mountain Biking Association for more info on wintertime biking locations.

  • The Michigan Trails and Green Way Alliance website is loaded with information on paved and unpaved trails all over the state.

Let’s face it, it’s probably going to be cold and dark this winter, whether we like it or not. Short of leaving the state and heading south, there’s not much we can do about it. So, let’s embrace it! Find an activity you love, make a plan with a friend and get the right gear. It's that simple. Hopefully, you are now armed with a few tools to motivate you to get outdoors and embrace (or at least tolerate) the cooler temps.

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