If you're vowing to lose weight or get fit in 2020, embrace the forest preserves as your outdoor workout wonderland.
The Forest Preserve has more than 120 miles of paths that are perfect for walking, running, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, birdwatching and nature-absorbing fun. So bundle up and explore a new or favorite trail; take a walk on the Wauponsee, a spin on the Centennial or a jaunt on the Joliet Junction.
Trails are asphalt, crushed limestone or natural surface and they travel through woodland, wetland, prairie and savanna terrain. Be sure to check individual trails to see which activities are allowed.
There are many benefits to outdoor exercising and exploring in winter. It’s a great way to keep extra pounds off during the calorie-laden holiday season. It’s also a good way to reduce the stress of getting through the shopping, cleaning, cooking, spending and hosting duties associated with the holidays or just your average week in the rat race.
Spending more time outside in the winter will help you soak up more sunshine, which helps your body produce vitamin D and can ward off the winter blues. Running or walking outdoors is a better and tougher workout than on a treadmill in your basement where all you have to do is lift your feet to stay in place. Also, if you continue to exercise throughout the winter, you’re more likely to stick with your fitness program. And winter workouts will help you get ready for bathing suit season come spring.
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The key is to play it safe. Would-be winter exercise enthusiasts should check with their doctors first if there is a medical condition that could prohibit or limit outdoor exercising in cold temperatures. Also, be on the lookout for frostbite and hypothermia symptoms. If you are going to brave the elements, dress in layers.
“Dressing too warmly is a big mistake when exercising in cold weather,” according to Mayo Clinic's winter fitness tips page. “Exercise generates a considerable amount of heat — enough to make you feel like it's much warmer than it really is. The evaporation of sweat, however, pulls heat from your body and you feel chilled. The solution? Dress in layers that you can remove as soon as you start to sweat and then put back on as needed.”
The first layer should be thin and made of a synthetic material, not cotton, which doesn’t wick moisture away from your body. Fleece or wool should be next, with a final layer made of a breathable material that is waterproof.
The clinic also urges people to protect their head, hands, feet and ears from the cold and to wear reflective clothing, sunscreen and proper footwear, headwear and eyewear associated with each sport.
Drink plenty of fluids while you're working out this winter because dehydration can be harder to notice in cold weather. The American Hiking Society, which has cold weather hiking tips, recommends boiling your water before venturing outdoors and keeping it close to your body in a tightly sealed container so the water doesn't freeze.
And don't forget Fido.
"Hiking with dogs provides health benefits to both the pets and the owners, as well as deepening their bond through shared experiences," the hiking society explains.
But make sure your pup is just as prepared as you are.
"Check the conditions where you are headed and determine what kinds of clothing your dog might need," the hiking society advises. "Booties can protect your dog’s paws in icy or abrasive trail conditions."
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