How to exercise socially distanced amid winter

Illustration by Ariel McGee

Winter has arrived, and so has seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Staying active can be particularly beneficial to mental health when the days are short and the sun is in hiding. Here are some exercise ideas for those looking to safely leave the comfort of their homes during the winter. 

On snowy days, consider traveling to one of several beautiful areas to ski or snowboard near Portland. You can take an hour and a half drive up to Mt. Hood’s Summit Ski Area, Mt. Hood Skibowl, Mt. Hood Meadows or Timberline Ski Area. Mt. Hood Meadows Nordic Center and the groomed trail to Trillium lake are great areas to go cross-country skiing, which is a great way to get in a full-body workout. If you happen to have a pair of ice skates, Trillium lake freezes over in the cold months and can be hiked or skiied to. No matter what you do at these resorts, you will find a beautiful view of our beloved Mt. Hood and get a dose of that much needed Vitamin D. 

Some other ways to get some exercise in the snow are: socially distanced snowball fights, shoveling snow off of your driveway and sidewalks or vigorously making snow angels. A fan favorite at Lewis & Clark is going sledding on school snow days. Even if you do not have a sled, you can use items like Fred Meyer bags to slide down a hill a few times. Snow is rare in Portland, but this year it is estimated that Portland will get more snow than usual due to the La Niña winter ahead. La Niña is a global weather pattern that tends to bring colder weather and heavier snows. Take advantage of the extra snow while you can.

If you are hoping to stay in Portland to get your exercise, there are numerous hiking trails you can utilize. Tryon Creek State Natural Area is just a short walk from campus, with 5 miles to explore and many slugs to find. Marquam Nature Park is just a short drive up Terwilliger Boulevard near Oregon Health & Science University. This park offers 7 miles of trails, and offers a trail up to the Council Crest summit park which offers beautiful views of the city. Whether you are training for a marathon or looking for longer walks, Forest Park Conservancy has more than 80 miles of trails to explore. Located in Northwest Portland, it is one of the largest urban forests in the United States and converges with the Willamette and Columbia rivers. 

Whatever you are doing in the cold, it is important to dress in plenty of layers when heading out to exercise. It is generally recommended that you avoid cotton because once it gets wet with snow or sweat, the moisture gets trapped and can actually make you feel colder. The first layer of your clothing should be moisture-wicking fabric like long-sleeved athletic shirts, followed by a layer of fleece and a waterproof jacket. And as always, do not forget to drink plenty of water when exercising. 

Winter weather can incentivize you to stay inside, but there are plenty of ways to get moving outside. Staying active is essential to the production of happy hormones like dopamine and is an inhibitor to stress hormones such as cortisol. Additionally, essential vitamins such as vitamins A and D are provided by the sun, and getting outside will ensure that your body gets as much of these vitamins as possible in the cloudy months. Find a fun activity that works for you, put on your favorite mask, remember to social distance even when you are outside and go have some fun. 

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