Winter walking in Hertfordshire: stay healthy in winter
PUBLISHED: 09:23 16 January 2017 | UPDATED: 09:47 24 January 2017
When it's cold out there, it's tempting to stay cosy indoors. But Sian Price of the Countryside Management Service says make the effort to explore our wilder spaces on foot and you will be rewarded
When it comes to New Year resolutions, walking more is a fine idea. But when there’s the threat of snow, sleet or rain, our resolution can waver. Most of us spend the winter months avoiding the big chill by seeking refuge at home, but as the co-ordinator of Hertfordshire Health Walks, a year-round, come-rain-or-shine, programme, I suggest getting outside – the benefits are enormous. Here are some reasons you should give your heating bill a break in January and go for a walk instead.
Burn festive calories
If you over-indulged on Christmas pudding this year, there’s some good news if you’re prepared to put in the leg work. There are two types of fat cell in the body, white and brown. It’s the latter our body uses to burn through detrimental white fat cells to keep us insulated. In cold weather, this function increases. In short, the more you get moving outside in the cold the more fat you’ll burn. We’re not suggesting this is an excuse to go calorie-crazy, but certainly worth embracing the freeze for.
Move more, feel happy
The extra benefit that comes with all physical activity is that it boosts your mood. In the short days of our winter months, getting outside and walking helps us to feel happier and more connected. Soaking up daylight while exercising moderately is top of the list of treatments for beating the blues caused by Seasonal Affective Disorder, which can rear its moody head during winter.
Social interaction is another key mood booster. If you find yourself increasingly holed up at home, you can avoid weather-induced isolation by joining others on a Hertfordshire Health Walk, which often includes a post-walk cuppa or pint.
Healthy immune system
Being active at least five days per week in winter will fight off bugs. This is the prescription of a 2010 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which found those who exercise frequently were much less likely to develop colds, and if they did, it was much less severely. Hertfordshire Health Walks are short routes designed to help participants to build up activity levels easily to the UK’s chief medical officer’s recommendation of 150 minutes moderate exercise per week for maintaining good health and wellbeing.
Too cold to walk? Moderate-intensity exercise gets the blood pumping and in no time extremities are toasty. To walk comfortably in the cold, it’s best to layer up though – muscles may take a bit longer to warm up – but as you do you can remove clothing. According to the Stroke Association, the blood-pumping benefits of a brisk 30-minute walk every day help to prevent and control high blood pressure that causes strokes, reducing the risk by up to 27 per cent.
Walking safely in winter
Go slow – shorten your stride and pay attention to where you’re placing your feet if there is ice or mud. A slow pace will allow more time to enjoy the surroundings.
Right footwear – pick a walking shoe with thick grippy soles to give good traction on loose ground. Check regularly to see if the tread is getting bare.
Hands free – avoid carrying belongings in your hands or walking with your hands in pockets, as you’ll need them free for balance or to reach out in the event of a slip or trip. Wear a small waterproof backpack to carry belongings, but nothing too heavy, as this will change your centre of gravity.
Be bright – wear bright colours to be visible to others. Hertfordshire Health Walks leaders wear hi-vis jackets to allow them to be seen at the front and back of the group. A bright and reflective backpack cover will keep you visible.
Hertfordshire Health Walks offer 55 free short walks every week. To find a local walk programme, visit hertfordshirehealthwalks.co.uk. For self-guided walking maps and information on Herts’ green spaces, go to hertfordshire.gov.uk/cms/getactive