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7 reasons to exercise outdoors this winter

Don’t be a fair-weather exerciser’make sure to enjoy the outdoors this winter. Here are seven reasons why

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outdoor fitness

Get outside!

It’s cold outside, so all the more reason to keep your exercise routine strictly indoors, right? Not so fast. There are plenty of health-promoting reasons to get your exercise groove on in the great outdoors this time of year. With the right warm gear, you can still enjoy many of your favourite warm-weather ways to keep fit, or go with the snow flow by enjoying winter sports like cross-country skiing that get your heart pumping. From gym-germ avoidance to lining your wallet with more green, here are the top reasons to take it outside.

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sunshine

1. Get happy by getting some sunshine

Some 15 percent of Canadians suffer from the winter blues, says the Canadian Mental Health Association. To beat them, it suggests making a habit of a daily noon-hour walk. “The activity and increased exposure to natural light can raise your spirits,” it says. You’ll catch even more rays if you live in Calgary, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay or Halifax: Your city boasts one of the top 10 sunniest winters in Canada, according to Environment Canada.

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skip the gym

2. Avoid those pesky gym germs

As convenient as gyms are for a full cardio-and-weight-training workout, they are also hotbeds of germs ranging from athlete’s foot to staph, according to the Center for Disease Control. Unfortunately you can add the flu virus to the mix now that flu season has started.

Steer clear of these bugs by taking your routine out in the crisp air. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition: Lift weights inside, wash your hands thoroughly and do push-ups and lunges and running outdoors if you’re committed to gym visits.

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woman skiing

3. Give your head and lungs a break

“Canadians spend an estimated 90 per cent of their time indoors,” says Health Canada, with health repercussions including headaches and respiratory ailments. If you recall a Canadian childhood where the winters were mostly spent dodging snowballs and dragging a toboggan uphill, that number may come a shock-but it’s not too late to help bring down the trend. Why not take up one of the four winter Ss: Sledding, skiing, snoeshoeing and skating? You’ll take a load off your lungs, to boot.

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nature

4. Connect with nature

In a telling sign of our growing disconnect with the natural world, the words “beaver” and “acorn” were cut in 2008 from the Oxford Junior Dictionary to make way for entries such as “BlackBerry” and “MP3 player.” Put those devices down, forgo the fast fix of the treadmill, and rediscover nature in its wintry thrall. Even our biggest cities have stunning pockets of nature to explore year-round, such as Stanley Park in Vancouver, High Park in Toronto and Mont-Royal in Montreal.

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winter couple

5. Conserve gas (and money)

Cold weather means your car gobbles up way more fuel, up to a whopping 50 per cent more than in warmer weather, according to Natural Resources Canada. Those cold ignition starts are hard on your vehicle, too. Save some money, engine wear and the environment by keeping it parked while you hit the streets near your home.

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winter tennis snow

6. Enjoy smaller crowds at “summer” sport facilities

So long as the snow doesn’t fly, or at least accumulate, golfers in Vancouver can benefit from smaller midwinter crowds on the greens at city-run courses. That’s to say nothing of playing tennis, even in a colder climate like Toronto. “There’s no reason why you can’t play tennis on the public courts so long as there isn’t snow or rain,” says this writer’s tennis-aholic husband. Play longer without the crowds, and play harder without the risk of sunstroke.

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snowball fight

7. Get an adrenaline high by discovering an Olympic sport

One thing that the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics reminds us of is that winter plays host to many often-overlooked outdoor sports. Luge, mogul skiing, biathlon-there are lots of disciplines to discover that would provide not only a cardio boost, but also an awesome endorphin rush. You might never achieve Olympic-level acumen, but you can certainly have a ball-a snowball, that is-trying.