By Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie
It's the ultimate ironic twist — just as you're resolving to finally get into shape, the worst weather of the year sets in. If you feel like the couch and blanket are calling your name, you're not alone: in a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, Massachusetts men burned 120 fewer calories through exercise in the winter than summer, while women burned 70 fewer calories. When researchers accounted for summertime activities like yard work, those stats doubled. But don't despair. With a few layers and the right attitude, there are plenty of ways to burn those calories before the snow melts.
Calories burned per hour*: about 340-544
Downhill skiing or snowboarding is the ultimate workout — without feeling like one. Whether you stick to the bunny slopes or you're a black diamond daredevil, you'll work your body from head to toe, targeting your butt, quads, core and other small balance muscles that help to keep you upright as you head downhill.
Calories burned per hour: about 476-1100
If downhill skiing terrifies you or you don't have a good set of slopes nearby, cross-country (or Nordic) skiing is a heart-pumping workout that will warm you up before you have the chance to say "brrr." (Word to the wise: dress as though it's about 20 degrees warmer than it actually is to avoid overheating when your body cranks the temps.) If you can walk, you can cross-country ski — and get a full-body workout while you're at it. Though your legs and butt will provide much of the power, using poles will also engage your arms, back and abs.
Calories burned per hour: about 544
For a less-fussy version of downhill or cross-country skiing, reach for a set of snowshoes next time there's a snow day. With no need to drive to a mountain or find groomed trails to ski, snowshoes go right out the back door (or to any nearby snow-covered park or trails). The large clown shoe-like apparatus straps onto your ordinary athletic shoes (opt for waterproof shoes or boots if you have them), increasing the surface area so you can run or walk over the snow instead of sinking into deep drifts. For runners, look for smaller, lighter-weight racing snowshoes (one to try: Atlas Race Snowshoe), while walkers can get by with less expensive recreational styles (try: Tubbs Xplore Snowshoe).
Calories burned per hour: 476-918
Can't live without your run? To brave snow- or ice-covered roads and sidewalks without slipping, all you need is a set of chains for your running shoes. Seriously. When the plows haven't made it to your neck of the woods and you want to go for a run, Kahtoola MICROspikes (kahtoolah.com) and Yaktrax Pro (yaktrax.com) are true game changers. The two products have slightly different designs (MICROspikes have actual metal barbs which can be intimidating, but get the job done; Yaktrax are a kinder rubber web coiled with thick wire), but both attach to the bottom of your running shoes to provide the traction you need to keep from slipping backward with every stride or wiping out on a patch of black ice.
Calories burned per hour: about 170
When you're just plain sick of being cold and no, you don't want to put on a sweater, Bikram yoga is the name of the game. In contrast to the winter weather outside, this sequence of 26 postures is done in a studio with the heat cranked to a beyond-balmy 105 degrees. Prepare to work up a good sweat, which proponents say helps to rid the body of impurity and toxins, while improving your flexibility, muscle tone and balance.
Calories burned per hour: about 442
Exercise DVDs are the next best thing to group fitness classes at the gym (not to mention they save you the monthly membership and commute). Plus, they feature all-star fitness instructors from far and wide, bringing more star power into your living room than most local health clubs can muster. To beat the boredom of doing the same routine again and again, check your local public library's selection, load up your Netflix queue or check out the daily rental selections at Amazon.com.
Calories burned per hour: about 476-680
A handful of studies in recent years have pointed to the exceptional fitness and body-sculpting benefits of soccer. We've told you how a British study found that exercisers blasted twice the fat when they played soccer than when they jogged regularly (probably thanks to the built-in bursts of speed). Now a new study from Staffordshire and Aston Universities in the UK reveals that soccer can help to boost confidence and even help to manage depression. Check with your local YMCA or parks and recreation department, or with a website like active.com or meetup.com to look or a nearby indoor league.
Calories burned per hour: about 408-680
A little cold (and even snow) doesn't have to condemn you to a winter of stationary cycling. Wear plenty of layers, but expect to feel chilly for the first five minutes of your ride, says Emilia Crotty of Bike New York. And while a good sweat-wicking layer near your core is a must-have, your extremities tend to get the coldest, she says, so opt for a pair of wind-proof gloves (or mittens).
A little know-how goes a long way when conditions get icy, too. Aim for the fresh snow, which is easiest to pedal through. And just like in a car, try to stay relaxed and avoid making sudden moves when you hit a slick spot. "Roll through the patch and then brake and steer when you're back on solid ground," says Crotty.
Calories burned per hour: about 476
Ice skating is a great low-impact exercise (assuming you're not practicing jumps) that works just about all your lower body muscles, from your hamstrings and quads to your calves. Gliding on a thin blade on slick ice also helps to improve your proprioception, or your muscles' ability to respond to shifting balance and keep you upright on and off the ice.
*Calculated based on a 150-pound individual. If you're heavier, you'll burn more; lighter, you'll burn fewer calories.
Published January 9, 2012.
Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie is a freelance health and fitness writer in snowy Syracuse, New York, where she runs outside all winter long. Her book, Tone Every Inch (Rodale), will be released in February.