Winter Running and Walking

Winter Running and Walking by Beth Wightman

As physiotherapists, we are always trying to find ways to get people moving.  Being able to exercise right out your front door is a good way to get a workout in without the stress of travelling to and from the gym, and you don’t need to wait until spring to do it!  Getting outside in the winter can be invigorating, help get you some much needed sunlight and help elevate your mood. 

Following certain safety precautions, whether running or walking, is essential to happy winter exercise: 

  • On cold days it is even more important to warm up to get the blood flowing to the muscles you are about to put to work. Walk or jog for 10 minutes at slow pace before increasing the speed of your run/walk to the pace you want to maintain for the bulk of the distance. 
  • Research indicate greater benefit from stretching after you run/walk.
  • Start your run or walk into the wind so that you can be with the wind coming home.  As we all know, facing the wind always feels colder than having it at our backs. Starting into the wind (even when you don’t feel like it) will avoid the pain of facing a cold wind later in your run and realizing you have kilometers to go before you can get warm.
  • Dress in layers and choose technical clothing made for walking or running to help wick away sweat. Keep that comfortable cotton t-shirt in the drawer for post exercise relaxation!
  • Always carry a cell phone, cash and ID on you.
  • With these short winter days, you may find that the only time you have available to run is in the dark.  Always wear reflective clothing to help cars see you.  Local running stores also carry flashing lights you can attach to your jacket to make yourself extra visible. 
  • Slips and fall are always a concern in the winter: it might not be worth the risk of going outside on really slippery days. If you choose to do so, buying shoes with spikes built into them or buying a winter tracking device you can put over your shoes can give you more traction.
  • Running on snow and ice can put more strain on your hamstrings than simply running on dry ground.  Making sure your hamstring strength is good can help prevent injury.  A simple exercise to do so involves lying on your back with your feet up on a stability ball; lift your hips off the ground until your body is straight, bend your knees in and out ten times.  This will help strengthen your hamstrings eccentrically which is how we use them most often when we run.

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All in all, winter running and walking can be a great way to get out, get some exercise and help avoid those mid-winter blues.  Plus, you will feel like a champion for braving the elements!  Following the above safety precautions will hopefully make winter exercise a pleasant experience for you.  Hope to see you out there on the roads!

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