On Christmas Day a few years ago, Johanna Wandel, then 34, her sister and two brothers descended upon their parents' home in Bruce Mines, Ont., near Sault Ste. Marie. After feasting on "massive amounts" of Christmas goodies and feeling in need of exercise, Johanna went outside to burn off calories by building a quinzee, or snow cave, while her family watched from indoors.
Johanna (who in her work life is a research associate in geography at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ont.) was having so much fun that her siblings soon joined her. By Boxing Day they'd built four igloos as well as the quinzee. "If you live in this climate," says Johanna, "you can either huddle inside for six months or you can take advantage of it."
Johanna's got the right idea. According to the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute, 61 per cent of adults aged 18 and older are considered insufficiently active for optimal health benefits, which puts them at a higher risk for chronic conditions and diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. So don't let the cold weather chain you to your couch; instead, check the list below and head out for some winter fun.
Dress in layers, and include a windproof jacket, a hat and an extra pair of mitts; also bring water or juice and snacks such as trail mix, nuts or dried fruit. While you can do many of the activities right in your own neighbourhood, we included some extra-cool places to do them across the country.
Skiing – both cross-country and downhill – can be extra exciting under the stars. Safety Tip: Wear a headlamp and stick close together.
Cool spots: Poley Mountain Resort near Sussex, N.B.; Gatineau Park, Ottawa (www.ottawaoutdoors.ca); Lost Lake Loop in Whistler, B.C.
If you've ever slid down a snow-covered hill, you know what a rush it can be. And the upside to the uphill trip? It's a great workout that will get your heart pumping.
Tip: Choose smooth hills with few or no obstructions. Health Canada suggests all children wear a helmet while sledding.
Cool spots: Bowring Park in St. John’s, Nfld. (www.wordplay.com/tourism/parks/bowringpark.html); Citadel Hill in Halifax (www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ns/halifax/visit/index_e.asp); High Park in Toronto (www.toronto.ca/parks/highpark.htm).
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Snowshoeing works your heart, lungs, quads, hamstrings and hip flexors; if you use poles – to maintain balance – you'll also work your tricep, bicep, chest and back muscles. Snowshoeing at a moderate speed of two to 2.5 miles per hour on varied terrain can burn up to 500 calories per hour; increase to three to 3.5 miles per hour and you can burn up to 1,000 calories.
Cool spots: Prince Edward Island National Park; Fundy National Park in Alma, N.B.; Halfmoon Lake Natural Area, northeast of Edmonton.
Walking briskly for 30 minutes, four to seven days a week, may reduce your risk of morbidity from heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis, non-insulin-dependent diabetes and certain cancers. Regular walking can also reduce anxiety, tension and depression.
Cool spots: Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site in Annapolis County, N.S.; Bruce Trail in central and southern Ontario; Whiteshell Provincial Park near Falcon Lake, Man.
Find a frozen surface – a rink, your own flooded backyard or a lake (frozen to appropriate thickness, which the Canadian Red Cross says is at least 15 centimetres) – and lace up. Skating can build muscles and endurance.
Cool spots: Rideau Canal in Ottawa; Meewanis Skating Rink in Saskatoon.
This quintessential Canadian sport offers the benefits of skating, plus teamwork. Organize teams and rent a rink, or play on a frozen lake (Canadian Red Cross says ice for hockey needs to be 20 centimetres – five centimetres thicker than for regular skating).
Cool spots: North Side Sport and Leisure Complex in Fredericton; Outdoor Ice Oval in Prince George, B.C.
More than one million Canadians curl at least once a year at one of the country's 1,200 clubs. The low lunges you have to get into to throw a rock help increase hip flexibility, and the vigorous sweeping exercises your arms, legs, lungs and heart.
Cool spots: Mayflower Curling Club in Halifax ; Top of the World Curling Club in Dawson City, Yukon.
Sign up for a dogsled expedition – it's more than just a ride. At some places you'll learn how to handle the dogs and drive the team.
Tip: A reputable outfit will only use sociable animals that behave well around children. However, sled dogs are strong, and if they get excited they can knock a small child over, so parental supervision is necessary.
Cool spots: Haliburton Highlands region in Ontario; the Anvil Range in central Yukon; Jasper National Park in Alberta.
Trail horseback riding
You might wonder about the fitness benefits – after all, the horse is carrying you, not the other way around – but horseback riding is great exercise for the butt, legs and inside of your thighs.
Cool spots: Cache Rapids Stable in Deer Lake, Nfld.; River Ranch Horseback Adventures in Coldbrook, N.S.; Big Bar Guest Ranch in Clinton, B.C.
Building a snowman
Packing, rolling and lifting heavy wet snow, the kind that's ideal for snow sculpting, will work your back, arm and leg muscles (bend your knees and lift with your legs).
Tip: Do some light stretches before and after.
Cool spots: Yards all across our great nation!
Dreading the food tables at those annual holiday parties? Click here to learn some tips to avoid overeating.
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