How We Physically Adjust to Winter
When temperatures plunge below freezing, nature undergoes a transformation. Familiar trails and vistas from other seasons become completely different, almost magical, in winter.
Winter hiking is not just about these new perspectives, though. It also presents unique challenges and benefits for your body and fitness. There's a reason why they say "winners are made in winter."
What Does Winter Mean for Your Body?
You Burn More Calories, Even at Rest
Your body is always working, not just when you're moving. It constantly performs various functions requiring energy. One crucial task is maintaining the right "operating temperature," which means keeping your body at an optimal level of warmth.
In summer, your body doesn't have to work hard for this, but winter is a different story.
Your body burns significantly more calories outdoors in winter, which can be a blessing after all the festive indulgence. Overdid it with holiday treats? Winter hiking might be your solution!
Breathing Becomes a Workout
Breathing harder during winter hikes or activities isn't just your imagination. Cold air is drier and denser compared to summer air, so your lungs have to work harder to warm and humidify it. Each breath becomes a mini workout for them.
Sure, it's tougher to breathe, but adapting to this challenge means you'll be a step ahead when spring arrives!
Blood Circulation Focuses on Your Body's Core
In winter, your blood circulation prioritizes your body's central parts, focusing on vital organs.
This natural and crucial process helps keep you alive but also means your extremities—like fingers, ears, and nose—might get stiff and cold. Keep this in mind when dressing for the outdoors!
Stiff Muscles and Joints
Muscles and joints don't function optimally in winter, often feeling stiff, especially at the beginning of your activity.
Think of your body as a machine with many interlocking parts. In winter, these parts need extra maintenance—like a good warm-up—to work smoothly.
While you might skip warm-ups in summer, they are essential in winter to avoid injury.
Preparing for Winter: Keeping Your Body in Top Form
Layering is crucial for winter dressing. Imagine an onion with several layers that you can adjust according to your activity, the weather, and conditions.
This involves a moisture-wicking base layer, an insulating middle layer, and a protective outer layer against the elements.
Hydration is Key
We tend to feel less thirsty in winter, but our bodies can lose as much, if not more, water than in other seasons. So keep hydrating to ensure your body functions properly.
We've already touched on higher calorie burning in winter. To keep up, you need more energy. Not consuming enough can affect your body's ability to maintain its temperature, leading to potentially dangerous situations. Ideal snacks include nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, or energy bars.
Take It Slow
Remember, hiking is not a race. Take your time to enjoy the winter landscape. Don't push your body too hard; it's already working hard enough in the cold.
A short, intense warm-up of even 5 minutes can make a significant difference. It's not just about getting ready for the day's activities; it's crucial for preventing injuries.
Protect Your Extremities
While your body's core gets prioritized for warmth, your extremities don't have the same luxury. Make sure to adequately protect your fingers, toes, ears, and nose.