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Your Winter Weather Walking Plan Is Here!

Give up your go-to fitness activity? No way! Besides, you may burn calories faster in the cold. Here are keep-stepping tips from AARP’s wellness guru plus a few of our friends from GirlTrek.

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I’d never walked in my neighborhood that much before 2020, when the COVID-19 outbreak drove me away from my gym. I'm glad that so many of us have maintained this healthy outdoor habit ever since the start of the pandemic. That's especially helpful now that masking up is a thing again. It's been refreshing to see so many others in my neighborhood getting their steps in.

But whenever the weather starts to turn cold, I can’t help but notice that my walking route becomes increasingly deserted.

“Just because the winter comes, it's no excuse not to walk,” says Susie Paige, a 66-year-old member of GirlTrek, a movement that aims to empower Black women to walk in order to heal our bodies, practice self-care and reclaim our streets. Among the active GirlTrek members in thousands of cities, 61 percent of women have lost weight, 90 percent of those diagnosed with depression said walking improved their symptoms, and 28 percent report being prescribed less medication.

With success stories like that, we can’t afford to take the winter off. Here’s how to adapt your walking routine to the colder months.

Keep the routine — and goals — simple. While it can be tempting to head to the park for a walk on a summer day, having to go a distance in the cold can be a deterrent. “You don't want to get discouraged because you have to drive somewhere,” Paige says. “When it strikes you as convenient for you, get out and walk.” Also, freezing temperatures might not be the best time to set a three-mile goal. In fact, according to GirlTrek just 30 minutes a day can make a difference to your health.

Tweak your technique. Now that you may be shortening your walks, get the most out of your movement and avoid injuries with good form. “As you get moving, pay close attention to your technique,” advises AARP Wellness Ambassador Denise Austin. “Strike the ground with your heel first, and then roll to your toe, so it’s easier on your knees, back and hips.” Check out this free, short AARP video for her additional tips on engaging your arms and abs as you walk. If you’re enrolled in AARP Rewards, you’ll earn 300 points for watching it!

Know the benefits. We’ve already addressed the fact that walking is good for you, but did you know walking in cold weather might help you lose weight faster? A study by researchers at the University of Albany found that you burn more calories in colder temperatures. However, if you have a health condition such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), consult with your doctor before walking excessively in the cold.

Have a plan for when others slack off. Everyone is not going to be down with winter walking, and your walking buddies from the summer may be MIA. If you can’t find a walking partner who lives near you, conduct virtual walks on Zoom, suggests Deborah McGlawn, a 52-year-old GirlTrek hike leader based in Atlanta. “Whereas we would normally be out together on Saturdays, now we're together on the phone. So wherever you are, you can dial in and walk and talk so you don't feel alone.” You can even start the meeting with video to say hello, then switch it to a call so that you remain focused on your route and situationally aware.

Dress for the weather. While you may be tempted to bundle up, you’ll warm up fast once you hit the street. In fact, you should strive to dress for a temperature that is 10 degrees higher than the day's forecast, according to Harvard Medical School. 

Dress in layers that you can easily peel off if you start to sweat and put back on if you begin to cool down. Harvard advises starting with a synthetic material such as polypropylene because it will draw sweat away from your body, and top it off with a layer of wool blend or fleece. Your third layer should be waterproof to protect you from rain or snow. Try to avoid cotton because it will absorb your sweat, leaving you feeling sticky. Don’t forget about your hands and neck. “We put our hats on, our gloves and scarves and keep it moving,” McGlawn says.

Have an indoor backup strategy. While winter walking can be stimulating, you don’t want to end up with frostbite. According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk of frostbite is less than 5 percent as long as the temperature is above 5 degrees. But if the temperature drops below zero, or you have concerns about your stability on walkways that may be slick, it’s time to make some indoor plans. We love this AARP video featuring Austin’s 10-minute indoor walking workout. AARP Rewards members can earn another 300 points!

If you work in an office building, take the stairs or the long way to the restroom. If you’re working from home, “You can walk in circles in your living room,” McGlawn says. I’ve gotten in the habit of walking around my house while I talk on the phone.

Make it a family affair. Paige, who lives in Philadelphia, has been walking year-round since 2013 when her sister Faye told her about GirlTrek. They spread the word to the rest of their sisters and that Thanksgiving the family did a 5K walk. Since then, the family has incorporated walking into every gathering. “Everybody knows when we come together, you can count on a group walk.”

Stay motivated with music. Stream Sisters’ walking playlist. The goal is to keep our activity up in the winter months so we can be as healthy as possible in the spring. “We have to encourage each other to keep moving and we can't let the winter stop us,” Paige says.

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