The weather outside is frightful.
There’s nothing you’d rather do than curl up on the sofa with a good book and a cup of cocoa. And wait for the spring thaw.
Well, keeping active is especially important during the winter - and especially challenging.
“Muscles really tense up in the cold, so if you fall it can really hurt,” said Gretchen Aleto, fitness director at the Sta-Fit Health Club in downtown Spokane.
So, we’ve put together the following list of suggestions for good ways to burn calories in the cold.
Of course, ‘tis the season to make unrealistic resolutions.
“It’s a good idea to set goals that are achievable,” said Lee Wheeler, owner of North Idaho Fitness in Coeur d’Alene. “And write them down.”
Wheeler advised starting slowly.
“Maybe you could start with walking up and down the stairs in your house for five minutes and gradually work up to 10 or 15 minutes,” Wheeler said. “If you do too much, you might get so sore that you never want to try it again.”
If trudging up and down stairs sounds like torture, consider mall walking. Not shopping, but purposefully striding around the inside of a mall.
Aleto said mall walking has become a popular option for people who like to stroll in the spring and summer but don’t want to risk slipping on slick streets and sidewalks this time of year.
“You should wear comfortable walking or running shoes and do between 20 and 60 minutes at a pretty brisk pace,” Aleto said.
Wheeler said that like everywhere there’s a shopping mall, group mall walking has become a favorite exercise in Coeur d’Alene, too. The group there is called the Silver Lake Striders and it has more than 300 participants.
“They even give prizes for walking so many miles,” Wheeler said.
Of course, there are plenty of ways to burn calories without ever leaving the house.
“There are lots of exercise tapes out there,” Aleto said. “Jane Fonda has a good new yoga tape and Kathy Smith is a good instructor for beginners. Karen Voight is a good one for someone wanting a more advanced workout.”
Yoga is an especially good discipline for increasing your body’s flexibility.
“Flexibility is so important,” Aleto said. “Everyone should make a point of stretching every day for 10 to 20 minutes. Hold every stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. It’s such a relaxing workout. It feels so good.”
Stretching, or warming up, is essential before doing outdoor sports such as downhill or cross-country skiing to prevent muscle strains or worse.
Of course, those activities are big-time cold weather calorie burners. For every half-hour you cross-country ski, you expend approximately 230 calories.
“It’s probably easier to get started cross-country skiing or snowshoeing than downhill skiing,” Aleto said.
She suggested if you’re a first-timer renting equipment, ask for the experts at the outdoor store for tips on getting started.
Of course, all those endeavors require cash, unless you already own the equipment. But it doesn’t cost a dime to get out and go sledding with the kids or build a snowman.
“It’s good to do anything that gets your heart rate up,” Aleto said.
Yes, even shoveling snow counts.
This is also the time of year when scores of folks sign up for health club memberships. Before making a long-term commitment, it’s a good idea to shop around, said Wheeler.
“The average person doesn’t make it past their first 30 days,” he said. “It’s important to evaluate a health club’s atmosphere and the services they provide. Go at the time you’ll be using the club and see if it’s something you can see yourself doing.”
If you’re not ready to start that kind of long-term relationship with a gym, you could always hire a personal trainer. It costs $30 to $40 an hour, but just 60 minutes can be enough to set up a basic workout program. And some trainers even make house calls.
Wheeler stressed the significance of strengthening muscles as you grow older.
“You lose muscle as you grow older and that means your metabolism slows down and you burn fewer calories,” he said.
Some muscle-building movements include lunges, squats, push-ups and sit-ups, all which can be done just about anywhere.
But the best way to firm up is with a weight-training program.
“You can get an inexpensive set of dumbbells at Target or PayLess, or you can even use soup cans,” Aleto said. “And there’s a lot of things you can do with your own body weight, but you can’t expect to just pick it up.”
She advised checking out a beginning weight-training video for basic techniques.
Wheeler suggested buying elastic tubing from a medical supply store and use it as a resistance while doing curls or any number of flexing movements.
If you’re willing to part with some big bucks, you can equip your home with all sorts of workout paraphernalia. Right after the first of the year is the time when treadmills, stationery bikes and the like traditionally go on sale.
“But, again, you need to think about your goals and evaluate your history,” Wheeler said. “If you’ve bought something before and it’s just sitting there, chances are you’re not going to use it.”
Wheeler suggested looking in the classified ads for used equipment and said that if he were to buy machines for his home, he would opt for something with several stations and a stack of weights.
If you’re already in great shape, good for you.
This might be a good time to cross-train, take up something new. For every 30 minutes of rock-wall climbing, you burn approximately 324 calories. For the same amount of time spent on karate or judo, your body expends about 300 calories.
“Even little things like taking the stairs at work or parking a couple of extra blocks away seems like so little, but it can really add up,” Aleto said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Staff illustration