Are dark cold winter days leaving you feeling cooped up inside your own home? While it might feel ‘off season,’ hiking during the winter actually offers you loads of physical and mental health benefits and best of all, gets you out of the house!

As a low-impact exercise, hiking plays an important role in any fitness regimen, especially for older adults.

In addition to offering cardio and aerobic challenges, hiking is a great social activity that connects you with others and nature. When approached properly, it can safely test your balance and coordination skills.

Here are some additional winter hiking benefits:

  • Especially after snow falls, hiking winter wonderlands can be awe-inspiring.
  • Spending time walking in nature has been shown to lower stress levels.
  • Natural sunlight exposure helps your body generate vitamin D (don’t forget the sunscreen though!).
  • Hiking in nature can positively shift your attitude toward winter.
  • It connects you to the region where you live.
  • Your body burns extra calories to keep you warm, and winter terrain can offer added resistance.
  • There are fewer annoyances at many locations during the off-season. For instance, there are less people and bugs because of the cold weather.

If you’re looking for creative ways to upgrade your next winter hike, don’t miss these 5 tips:

Add Weight

If hiking is your go-to exercise for burning calories and honing your balance and coordination, there is a way to make it even more challenging without having to take on the steepest trails.

Adding even a few pounds of weight to your pack can actually increase the weight-bearing resistance your body requires to keep moving successfully.

Burn more calories and tone your muscles with each pound of weight you add – whether it’s additional snacks, small dumbbells or a book to read when you reach your summit.

Take Your Pet

A well-trained dog can often navigate trails off-leash with their owners. Whether you own a dog like this or hike with a friend who does, bring him or her along. Watching a pet frolic in the snow and having that added protection as you go up a trail will be comforting and fun.

Find a New Trail

You may know your favorite trail like the back of your hand, which is great for ensuring you don’t get lost and are familiar with the terrain. However, it might be time to switch things up a bit.

Apps like AllTrails and ViewRanger can be downloaded to your mobile device. They offer you tens of thousands of topographically mapped trails to explore and learn about.

Other apps like MapMyHike additionally help you track the fitness data associated with your hike, including distance covered, number of steps, pace, calories burned, and so on.

Get New Gear

Winter hiking does generate its own unique set of potential fall risks, including icier and more slippery trekking surfaces. Gear up with the right equipment that will better support your weight and balance – i.e., crampons, trekking poles and thermal underwear.

Crampons and cleats go beyond trail shoes or hiking boots to provide extra traction for hikers taking on icy and snowy trails. The best trekking poles adjust in height, are lightweight and sturdy, and offer comfortable grips for holding and moving them.

Thermal underwear and additional layers of clothing are a must for cold weather hiking as you want to stay warm but avoid sweating on the trail.

Join a Group

You may always hike with at least one other person, like your husband or best friend, but have you thought about joining a group hike? This is a great way to meet new people and find new friends who share common interests with you, and hiking in groups is fun, safe, and social.

Use free online services like Meetup.com to find hiking groups near you or check with your senior community program manager, local senior center or faith community.

If your New Year’s resolutions include some form of ‘getting fit’ or ‘losing weight,’ consider giving winter hiking a try!

How do you find out about great hiking trails where you live? Have you ever been out on a winter hike? Please share your experiences or reservations below.

Jessica HeggJessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living a healthy lifestyle. Through her writing, she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others. You can find her on Twitter @Jessica_Hegg.

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