Outdoor activities are not only fun, they are healthy too. At this time of year, though, many people want to stay indoors due to the cold, snow and ice. But that is so unfortunate. Winter is a beautiful time of year to be outside. The sun glistens off the white snow causing it to sparkle. Winter colors abound with whites, blues, and silvers. Some of the most beautiful scenery can be found in the winter northern climates.
Title photo credit: Lori Schmidt
My friends are very active outside during the wintertime. There are so many fun things to do. They have graciously allowed me to use some of their photos for this blog article. They too want you to get out there and be active. There are so many benefits to being outside, even in the winter.
Fresh Air & Sunlight Boost Serotonin Levels
Serotonin is the happy hormone. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression, anxiety and insomnia. Normal serotonin levels leave us happy, calmer, focused, and overall more emotionally stable. Both oxygen and sunlight boost serotonin levels in our bodies. So, get outside and take a great big deep breath of fresh air.
Being Active Boost Endorphins
Endorphins are also happy hormones. They act on the same receptors in our brain as opioid drugs do. But they are natural chemicals that we make ourselves, so are much safer than artificial drugs.
Exercising, getting our heart pumping and moving our muscles raise our endorphin levels. This helps us feel good and is responsible for that “runner’s high” that runners talk about. That “high” can occur with other activities too. It helps us feel relaxed, clear-headed and calm. Endorphins are better at relieving pain than morphine.
Laughing also raises our endorphin levels. So, having fun doing outdoor activities can have a profound effect on our health.
Sunlight on our skin triggers the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D is vital to healthy bones, muscle and the heart. Just 30 minutes in sunlight will produce an entire day’s worth of this valuable hormone. Getting enough vitamin D is essential to ward off diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
Vitamin D is so important for our health that scientists and doctors attend entire conferences on just this one hormone. I had the opportunity to attend some of the lectures one year and it was a real eye opener. Trust me, we need vitamin D.
Sleep Better at Night
Just 15 minutes of fresh air and sunshine helps to supress melatonin during the day. This will help us make more when the sun goes down. Thus, we fall asleep better at night and have a deeper, more restful sleep.
Forests Reduce Stress, Depression and Ward Off Cancer
Getting out there among the trees can help reduce stress and help alleviate depression. Plants emit airborne chemicals, called phytoncides, that waft through the forest air. When we breathe in these chemicals it lowers our blood pressure and production of cortisone, the stress hormone. Research has shown that people who spend more time among the trees are happier and healthier. Phytoncides also help boost the cancer-fighting cells of our immune system.
So, bundle up and get outdoors this winter. Here are 26 activities to try. You have no excuses now! Get out there and be active. Do it for the health of it!
Figure skating was the first winter sport to be included in the Olympic Games. Figure skates have a special blade on the bottom with distinct edges and a toe pick that allow the skaters to do impressive moves. Free skating includes such fun things as spins, jumps, and spirals.
You don’t need to be a professional skater or even have figure skates. You just need to slap on some skates, find a rink or frozen pond and have fun.
Hockey is a very popular sport in Northern countries, especially in Canada. Ice hockey is Canada’s national sport. Skating and using special sticks to push a puck around on an ice rink is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. So, grab your buddies and get out there for a game or two.
Walking or running in deep snow can be difficult. Snowshoes make it so much easier, as they are designed to distribute our bodyweight over a larger area. Snowshoe running was recently made popular with its introduction into the Special Olympics. Hikers use snowshoes to extend their activity into the winter and enjoy the beauty of a winterized forest.
If you feel the need for speed, speed skating may be just what you need. Specialized skates with a long blade propel you around an ice track. While official speed skating tracks aren’t as readily available in most cities, recreational speed skating can still be practiced. Just skate along the outer edge of an outdoor rink. Just be sure to watch for other skaters on the ice.
Alpine skiing, also known as “downhill skiing”, is a very popular and fun winter sport. Using wider skis, skiers glide down very big hills and mountains covered in snow, using gravity as the propelling force. Most ski hills will rent equipment and teach novice skiers. So, alpine skiing is perfect for all levels from novice to professional.
For those a little more experienced with alpine skiing, ski jumping can be a fun activity. Basically, ski jumping is a competitive sport in which skiers jump over a ramp. Both the form and distance of the jump is scored in competition.
Cross-country skiing is another method to propel ourselves over snow. This type of skiing uses narrow skis and our own power, rather than gravity. It is a fantastic recreational activity. Skis and equipment can be rented from some sports equipment suppliers, nordic centers and ski clubs.
Most parents in Northern countries know what sledding is. It is also known as “tobogganing”. But did you know that sledding is a formal sport. Its Olympic categories are luge, skeleton and bobsledding. Sledding equipment can be as sophisticated as technical sleds or as simple as a plastic sheet. Recreational sledders simply find a snowy hill, slide down it and have a blast. Just don’t slide out into any traffic.
Tubing is a form of sledding that uses big inflatable tubes to glide down a big hill. It is usually an activity that is done at a ski hill where a chair lift takes you to the top. However, tubing can occur on shorter sledding hills too.
In 1965, a Michigan inventor glued two skis together for his daughters to have some fun. His wife called it a “snurfer” and it became wildly popular. Since, it has morphed into snowboarding, which is an equally popular sport. Snowboarders glide down ski hills with more technically styled snowboards.
Winter hiking is just that… hiking in winter. A good pair of winterized hiking boots or snowshoes may be needed to hike in the forest snow. However, it is a fantastic way to get some exercise and all skill levels can participate.
Running in the winter is definitely possible. It can be more difficult to run in snow and on ice, but this just makes runners stronger. Winter running shoes have better traction and water/wind proofing that makes it much more enjoyable, but they aren’t necessary. If you run, consider running outdoors all winter long.
Do you want to build a snowman? If you have ever rolled a ball in the snow to build a snowman, you know how much work this can be. It is both a strength and cardio workout. Snow sculpting also stimulates our creative side, as you can build anything you want in snow. Snow forts, snow castles, snow animals and other such sculptures all work your body and get you outdoors. It is something you can do in your own backyard.
Curling is a fun sport where players slide stones across the ice. They use brooms to guide the rocks and help them travel further. While it is usually played indoors in a curling rink, it is a fantastic workout.
Ringette is a team sport, similar to hockey, that was invented in Canada. Players wear hockey skates and move a rubber ring around with straight sticks. Scoring occurs by shooting the ring into a hockey net. It can be played on indoor or outdoor rinks. However, you might want to try it on an outdoor rink to get some vitamin D.
Most people know what a snowball fight is. Basically, it is a form of dodgeball using balls made from snow. However, did you know that snowball fighting is an official sport? It is called yukigassen ( or “snow battle”) that originated in Japan. Other countries, such as Finland, Russia, Australia, Sweden and Canada, have joined in the fun. So, grab some friends and challenge them to a snow battle.
A fatbike is an off-road bicycle with wide, fat tires. They were invented for use on soft ground like snow, mud and sand. So, with a fatbike, you can cycle all year long.
Yes, you can golf in the wintertime in some locations. Golfers use brightly colored balls on “whites”, instead of “greens”, of the course. It has become so popular among skiers, that some major ski resorts have tournaments and events where skiers golf on skis.
Broomball is a recreational game played on an ice hockey rink. Two teams of 5 players and a goalie use specialized brooms to maneuver a rubber ball across the ice into the opposite team’s net. It can be great fun and is an excellent workout.
While not the best workout, ice fishing gets you outdoors and into the sun to make some vitamin D. There is some exercise involved to break through the ice, set up and to reel in any fish caught. Although usually this is counteracted by all the beer drinking that occurs out on the ice. Just make sure the ice is thick enough to support your weight and the weight of all your equipment.
Snowmobiling can be a decent form of exercise on rough terrain. Holding on to the snowmobile can work your arm, core and leg muscles. And, of course, snowmobiling is done outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine. So, get out there and get moving, even on a snowmobile.
More Adventurous Activities
The next activities are not for those new to winter sport. I included them because they are fun and interesting. Those looking for more adventure in their lives may want to try them out. Just be sure to learn from an expert first before going out on your own to try these.
Some of the most spectacular winter photos come from photographers who ice climb. Ice climbers usually uses ropes and picks to traverse up frozen waterfalls. You do need special equipment and training to climb ice. It can be slippery and dangerous. While it isn’t for novice climbers, it can be a great activity for those who are adventurous.
This is a crazy sport that is exactly as it sounds. Kayaks are used to sled down a hill. Paddles are used to guide the kayak, rather than propel it forward. If you kayak during the summer, this may be a fun activity to try.
Ice Cross is an extreme skating competition. Brave participants fly down fast pace tracks that have sharp turns, drops and jumps. It is not for the faint of heart or those new to skating, but it sure is fun to watch.
Snow kiting or kite skiing uses a large kite to power skiers across ice or snow. The participants can wear skis or use a snowboard. The kites resemble parachutes and skiers use a technique similar to windsurfing to balance and maneuver across frozen surfaces.
Ice sailing involves using wind power to move a special boat across a frozen lake. The boats are similar to those used in windsurfing but have special blade runners on the bottom to move across the ice. Ice boats can reach very high speeds, so it can be a dangerous sport.
I hope this list gives some ideas on ways to be more active this winter. Of course, there are many more winter activities to try.
Now get out there and get some fresh air, sunshine and have some fun.