The wonders of walking in winter
Happy New Year! And good news, now the days are gradually getting longer there’s more time for a beneficial, winter walk. The beauty of walking is it’s literally on your doorstep, we all know how to do it and it’s free.
When to walk
Seize those shorter daylight hours! At this time of year, I love to go out shortly after sunrise, to get the blood flowing for dealing with the working day. Hearing the robins singing over the traffic is a treat. And heading outside within two hours of waking helps reset your body clock, by reducing melatonin production, which contributes to feeling dozy. Early-day light exposure can help reduce night-time waking, too.
Set yourself up for the afternoon with a little stroll at lunch time. And just a few hours later, just before sunset is perfect for appreciating the bare branches silhouetted against the sky, outlined more crisply by the low-hanging sun.
Why to walk
Apart from these everyday routines, there are occasions, particularly at this time of year, when a walk can calm you, soothe you, or clear your head. If you need a break from the sometimes-stifling seasonal set-up at home, just head out… a walk is a great way to dissipate stress and return to the fray renewed.
Eaten and drunk to excess? Even a short walk after a big meal aids digestion, and reduces blood sugar levels. And that oxygen and blood flow boost to the brain can offset hangover headaches.
Who to walk with
Yourself, the dog, a neighbour’s dog, a friend, colleagues… Ramblers’ Wellbeing Walks take place nationwide, most days, and are free to join. Many local authorities organise similar outings.
One not-to-be-underestimated advantage of going on a walk with a leader is that you can relax, free from navigational worries – Where is the stile? Were those trees the thicket or the copse? Why is there a fence? – and relax in the almost-meditational movement of putting one foot in front of the other, falling in and out of conversation with other walkers as you fall in and out of step.
Or try Parkrun, which takes place every Saturday at 9am, in parks and open spaces all over the country. Despite the name you can walk it. There’s a jolly atmosphere, plenty of other people around, and it sets you up for the weekend. And if you’re feeling altruistic, they always need marshals to point people on the right path, record running times, or walk at the back. Find out more here.
Organise a New Year’s Day stroll: it’s a popular time to go for a walk, seeing kids with new bikes, people showing off new winter woollies… See BBC Countryfile magazine’s massive list of the best walks for inspiration.
What to wear
It’s never too cold to go for a walk; you just need the right clothes. I’ve been out and about at -25°C in the Arctic Circle with frost-covered eyelashes – but without feeling cold. You need to be comfortably warm when you set off, with the ability to cool down as you go. That means layers. For me, it’s the thighs that feel the cold most, so tights or leggings under trousers are a must.
It’s the extremities that feel the cold so two pairs of socks, gloves inside mitts, hat, ear muffs and scarf. All (except the socks) can be removed en route, and may be all you need to cool down comfortably. Unbuttoning or unzipping jackets or coats let more cool air in. For serious hiking, the layering rule of three is key. Cotswold Outdoor recommends a moisture-wicking base layer. Merino wool is superbly suited for this: light, warm and anti-microbial which means it doesn’t smell (came in handy in the Arctic when I wore my long-sleeved top and leggings every day for a week. And, Alyson recommends Findra’s merino base layers). Next is insulation: a fleece, jumper or puffer jacket. Last, protection from wind and weather. But remember, there are benefits to being cold.
Footwear depends on the length of the walk, the ruggedness of the trail and conditions underfoot. It can be useful to designate a pair for walking, whether it’s trainers, hiking-style boots or authentic walking boots. They’re ready and waiting, and it saves getting other boots dirty. And if it’s frosty or icy, ice grips that slip over any shoes really do work.
If the sun’s shining (yes please), wear sunglasses. Squinting against low-in-the-sky rays can mean you can’t see where you’re going.
Keep your ears warm, and your brain engaged, by putting on headphones and listening to the radio, music, an audiobook or podcast. The distraction may up your distance.
Start now and you can stride confidently into the New Year, having already ticked off ‘get more exercise’ as a resolution.
Adrienne Wyper is a health and lifestyle writer and regular TNMA contributor.
These boots (and sneakers) are made for walking:
That’s Not My Age is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.