Winter got you feeling blue? Here's five ways to enjoy the season
Hate winter? You're not alone. While some people embrace winter, many of us dread it. It's dreary, it's dark and it's usually pretty cold — all good reasons to stay warm and cozy inside.
We know, of course, that spending time outdoors is good for our mental and physical health. However, finding the motivation to do it in winter can be challenge, so the key is to stick with activities you enjoy or are excited about trying.
If you're looking for some ideas to seize the season, here are five ways you can enjoy nature this winter. We promise not all of them require bundling up and enduring winter's often frigid temperatures for any length of time.
Take a hike
We mean this in the nicest way possible, but go take a hike. Seriously. Even in the dead of winter, enjoying a hike through your favorite forest preserve or even just a stroll around your neighborhood can be just what you need to energize you.
First off, the cold air will certainly get your blood circulating and invigorate your mind and body. Plus the winter landscape is a good change of scenery. A hike or a walk is even better in the freshly fallen snow. The quiet beauty of such scenery can be breathtaking.
Although a winter hike can be a rewarding experience, it does require a little more planning than a fair-weather outing. Make sure to dress appropriately for the weather, using warm layers that you can add or remove, the National Park Service advises. Wear appropriate footwear, and bring sunglasses and sunscreen, particularly if it's a sunny day or snow is covering the ground. Make sure to check the weather forecast, and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Looking for a new place to explore this winter? Will County's forest preserves are home to more than 130 miles of trails criss-crossing the county. Check out our Trails webpages to find a new place to explore this season.
If you can endure the cold, winter is actually the best time of year for stargazing. Why? Because in winter, the evening sky in the northern hemisphere faces away from the crowded center of the Milky Way, so there are fewer stars between Earth and the end of the galaxy, according to EarthSky. Plus, some of the stars we can see are giants, making them shine bright in the night sky.
Because we are facing away from the cloudy, star-filled part of the Milky Way, the winter sky can look more clear and crisp. The cold air in winter also helps because it doesn't hold as much moisture, meaning there are fewer obstructions to your view, Popular Science reports.
In the winter, Earth faces the Orion Arm of the Milky Way, and one of the most prominent constellations is Orion. The winter sky also features what's called the Winter Hexagon, a grouping of some of the brightest stars in the winter sky.
Just like at other times of the year, stargazing is best done from a dark spot away from city lights and other light pollution. The darker the sky, the more stars you'll be able to see. Being 20 miles to 30 miles away from a population center is best for dark skies, NASA advises. And don't forget how the full moon can brighten the night sky, blotting out some of the stars. The full moons this winter will be on January 6 and February 5.
Feed the birds
As promised, this is a way to enjoy nature from the warmth and comfort of home, because if you feed the birds, it will give you an opportunity to watch them as they visit your feeders. Most birds have varied diets, eating insects, small animals, fruits, grains and seeds, but during the winter, when food is more scarce, backyard bird feeders are a reliable source of food for many species.
Installing a few different types of feeders stocked with different types of food will help draw a larger variety of birds. A good choice for food is black oil sunflower seed, because it will attract the greatest variety of bird species, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Suet is another good choice because it's a high-energy food and may help attract birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees.
Placement of feeders is important both so you can enjoy the birds when they visit and to help keep them safe. Pick a spot that you can view easily from your home that's at least 3 feet from any windows to help avoid window collisions, which kill hundreds of millions of birds a year. If you can, choose a spot that's near trees and shrubs, because these spots provide shelter for birds.
And don't forget that while bird-watching is something you can easily do from inside your house, you will occasionally have to venture outdoors to refill your feeders.
Move your workout outdoors
Skip your next treadmill or Peloton session and move your workout outdoors instead. Many of us who spend the warmer months exercising in the great outdoors prefer the warm indoors for winter workouts, but that may be shortsighted. It may even be beneficial to do outdoor winter workouts at least occasionally.
A cold-weather workout can help build endurance because your heart doesn't work as hard, plus you expend less energy and sweat less, all of which means your body is being more efficient, according to Harvard Medical School. In addition, cold weather exercise can transform unhealthy white fat into calorie-burning brown fat.
While a winter workout could be just what the doctor ordered, make sure you're prepared. Dress appropriately in layers, protect your head and hands, wear proper footwear, stay hydrated, choose a safe surface and don't forget sunscreen, the medical school advises. And make sure you are aware of the signs of hypothermia, which include loss of coordination, slurred speech, intense shivering and extreme fatigue.
Let the season inspire you
You don't have to be an artist to let winter inspire you. You don't even have to do anything tangible with the inspiration you find in the season. Did you find animal tracks in the snow when you took the garbage cans to the curb? Let that inspire your creativity. What was it that left behind evidence of its presence? Did you stop for a minute to watch the birds at your feeders seemingly undeterred by the winter weather? Let that inspire you to go about your day with the same can-do attitude.
Of course, if you are an artist or enjoy art as a hobby — whether it's photography or knitting or painting or poetry — pick up the tools of your trade and let winter inspire your next creation. Just remember that inspiration doesn't have to lead to creation. Sometimes it's enough to just take in the scenery and let it motivate you to continue on your day.