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It can be challenging to get active in the depths of winter, but regular exercise is a three punch combination to hit the ‘winter blues’, cold-weather weight gain plus winter viruses and infections.
Indoors or out, exercise boosts serotonin levels to improve mood. Improved blood circulation from moderate exercise (30 minutes each day, according to a study from the American Journal of Medicine) can jump-start the immune system, while sun exposure in small doses helps boost both mood and immunity – just 15 minutes a day gives sufficient amount of vitamin D to improve immune system health and help the body properly absorb calcium for strong bones. Sunlight also stimulates the same neurotransmitters as antidepressants do, which will help the 4-6% of the U.S. population who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Even people serious about their sports goals often turn to the trainer or the gym when it’s cold, but that’s usually not a lot of fun for the family. Take on board your responsibility to set an example by showing that a fit, healthy lifestyle shouldn’t be a part-time pursuit limited by the weather – try some of the activities below with the family this winter.
People come to OCR from a variety of sporting backgrounds – and succeed. Some of the best OCR athletes have been wrestlers, adventure racers, triathletes, Crossfit athletes, and even ex-kayak/surf ski paddlers, thanks to their strong aerobic capacity and their above-average upper body strength. The terrain and the obstacles in OCR and mud runs break up the rhythm of the elite runner so it’s not all in their favor, plus elite runners are often challenged by the strength component required for some obstacles.
Weather or short days might thwart some of your regular long running routes, but you can train your agility close to home and involve the kids by setting up an obstacle course that everyone can run through. Try it out in the playground of a local school out of hours – scramble over big tires, go across monkey bars, run a pattern around trees, jump stairs. Go through the course several times with small breaks between turns and you can even chalk it up as interval training!
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Although not big in the USA, netball makes a great outdoor winter activity for the whole family. It’s closely related to basketball, the main difference is that instead of dribbling, players move the ball up the court by catching and passing. All passing and shooting must be done from a stationary position, so that evens out the playing field between people of different heights. You can improvise by playing with a basketball on a basketball court, although a real netball is closer to soccer ball size and the goals are lower and don’t have backboards.
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Got deep snow? Rig the family up in snowshoes and trek the winter wonderland. Snowshoeing is often considered to give triathletes a leg up (literally) over the biked-on-my-trainer-all-winter crowd as it’s the icy version of power running – legs are lifted higher, arms are pumped more and the terrain requires more use of stabilizing muscles. It’s a great way to raise anaerobic threshold, overall conditioning and sprint capacity on hilly courses – and at 650-700 calories per hour*, it helps keep the weight down.
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Hey, you’re all wearing thick clothing anyway, right?
Dodgeball is back, with dodgeball leagues popping up in workplaces and health clubs across the country, but a neighborhood game can easily be arranged either indoors or outdoors. As the game involves a lot of running, ducking, jumping and generally making yourself a small target, kids can often have an advantage. For the athlete in you, think of it as a dynamic, interval-type functional activity that requires strategy and also tests your reaction time and coordination.
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Elsewhere in the world, soccer is usually played through winter no matter what the conditions – rain, fog, sleet, even snow. There’s not a lot of falling on the hard, frozen ground, the playing field can be relatively small and it’s easy to set up makeshift goals. Try using a brightly colored ball that’s easy to see in snowy or gloomy weather. If the cold is too harsh, check your local indoor sport centers. Indoor soccer (or “futsal”) is great for the kids because they’re not disadvantaged against adults who can kick longer distances or run faster across a full-length outdoor field.
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Find a good hill and grab your tube, toboggan, or banged-up old snowboards, and time will fly by as you get a good strength and conditioning workout. Flying down a hillside isn’t a major calorie buster, but the trek back up the slope will hit your glutes and legs hard, while the steering and balancing on the sled helps work your core muscles, especially if you’re riding with a child (toddlers should always ride with an adult).
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Even if your winters are mild compared to elsewhere in the country, why not revel in the cooler weather and hit the ice rinks? Ice skating is an incredible lower-body focused cardio workout (rated at 460 calories per hour) which also provides strength training to all kinds of small-group stabilizing muscles. It’s also great for developing balance, but above all, it’s enjoyable for skaters of all levels.
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Get into the spirit of winter with a little hockey – if you don’t have ice, hit a local parking lot with roller skates and an old baseball (or a small inflatable ball if playing with smaller children – no need for protection, then) for a major cardio. It will also test your balance and develop coordination, reaction time and agility. Hockey is also a major calorie-burner (545 calories per hour) – and that’s even before factoring in the energy used fighting.
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Geocaching is a high-tech treasure fun to tempt the family out when it’s cold, and it gives kids a chance to learn about the outdoors, problem solving, and teamwork. You just need internet access and a GPS device – the GPS on your cell phone will be fine. Look up the official Geocaching website to see the treasures hidden in your area and race the clock.
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Nordic skiing (aka cross-country skiing) requires a little more gear and a decent amount of snow, but there can be a huge payoff – Nordic skiers have often been measured as having the highest VO2 max of all athletes.
Nordic skiing uses the entire body all at once and requires balance, power, and endurance. The arm motion has a very similar muscle pattern as the pull in swimming, while the leg and core work helps cyclists and runners. It’s a great way for the family to get out and see backcountry areas in winter, and unlike downhill skiing and snowboarding, Nordic skiing is relatively safe.
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