Staying fit in Winter

HANCOCK – With winter well under way, Copper Country residents have plenty of activities available to stay fit year-round.

“We have to utilize the five months of winter we have,” said Arnie Kinnunen, health educator at the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department.

These winter fitness activities can range from cross country skiing to snowshoeing or ice skating to ice fishing – even traditional activities such as running, walking and hiking can be enjoyed during the cooler season.

“We have some of the best trails in the Midwest – Swedetown Trails and Michigan Tech Trails – and both of those are lit,” Kinnunen said.

Other ski options include Maasto Hiihto and Chassell Classic for classic ski as well as Churning Rapids and the Copper Harbor Pathway at Fort Wilkins State Park.

One of the most important things to remember is to dress in layers.

Kinnunen recommends starting off with moisture-wicking base layers followed by a windbreaker and wind pants, but also making sure extremities are covered.

“If you’re going to be cross country skiing or snowshoeing, you’re going to be working up a sweat and creating some body heat, so you’ll need to dress lightly,” he said.

On the other hand, sledding or ice fishing will require warmer weather gear.

“If you’re dressed for the elements, it will make the activity much more enjoyable,” he said.

Although it is recommended that adults get 60 minutes of exercise per day, Kinnunen encourages everyone to look at it from a different angle.

“I would like people to turn this into a lifestyle and try to get daily activity instead of looking at it as fitness,” Kinnunen said. “Start off slow and gradually build up the amount of time you (workout) daily.”

Exercising outdoors also provides numerous benefits for the participants.

“Getting outdoors provides Vitamin D. Any type of movement means you’re working on your cardiovascular system, which is good for your heart and lungs,” he said. “People who are active (tend to) stay active longer than people who are not active.”

In an age concerned with constantly being connected, outdoor activities also provide an outlet to become “unplugged.”

“We spend so much time in front of the computer and (television) … getting away from all that is a great stress reliever, clears your head, gives you a chance to unwind and helps with anxiety,” Kinnunen said.

Being outside during the winter months becomes especially important in an area where seasonal affective disorder can cause depression.

“During these times, it is more important to get outside and do something because winters here can be long,” he said.

Research has shown, Kinnunen said, that exercise outside has more benefits than inside because of the resistance of the uneven ground along with the fresh air, calming wind and natural light.

“People who exercise outdoors tend to stick with an activity or lifestyle longer than people who will pick up a gym membership during the New Year,” Kinnunen said.

If costs or lack of equipment is a deterrent, Kinnunen encourages people to talk to neighbors or rent from shops before going out to purchase equipment of their own.

“Most of our sporting good shops around here, Cross Country Sports and Down Wind Sports, have programs where you can rent snowshoes and cross country skis that are fairly reasonable,” he said. “This will give you an opportunity to try before you buy to see if the sport is for you.”

Once people have decided to take up cross country skiing or snowshoeing, he recommends people shop at garage sales or during the offseason to get the best deal.

“Getting equipment that is the right size for you will also make a big difference,” he said. “Go to a reputable sporting goods store and ask to be sized or fitted.”

Whether getting fit by yourself, with a friend or with children, it is important to remember to be safe.

If walking or jogging, wear bright colored clothing, face traffic, be sure your shoes provide good traction and avoid the activity completely on days with low visibility or ice.

While sledding, know the surroundings and what is at the bottom of the hill, avoid roadways and walk up the side of the hill.

“Make sure to let someone know where you’re going because cell reception isn’t available everywhere here,” Kinnunen said.

Hydration is also important, even during the winter months.

“You may think because it is cold your body doesn’t need as much water, but it still does because you’re losing fluids as you exercise,” Kinnunen said.

For those looking for more traditional fitness activities, many communities offer public skating hours at the local ice rinks and many summer destinations are available year-round.

“Take a hike to one of our local destinations. Because people are snowshoeing, there’s already a trail there,” he said.

Sledding is another great option to stay fit and get young children involved.

“Nara Trail Head has a great sledding place with chalet to warm up. Swedetown also has a nice sledding hill. It’s lit and there’s a chalet where you can buy hot chocolate and coffee,” Kinnunen said.

In a place that has snow five months of the year, it is important to understand its benefits.

“If you enjoy it, you’ll look at it differently,” he said. “If you don’t like snow and don’t take advantage of using it, it’s going to be a miserable five months. Get out there and enjoy it in as many ways as you can.”