With chilly temperatures and snowfall blanketing our city, it can be easy to just settle in, get cozy and hibernate our way through conditions that can take up more than half of our calendar year. But as Canadians, it’s so important that we take full advantage of the beautiful communities we call home and get out and stay active during every season.
Fitness expert, Trainer and owner of SVPT Fitness & Athletics , Shara Vigeant, says it’s important to avoid inactivity during the long winter months.
“Depression, disease or chronic illness, injury and lack of independence are just a few of the risks. Moving simply makes us healthier and happier,” she says. “The longer you are inactive, the more you are putting yourself at risk for ill health and possible injury. You know how good it feels after you do something active. It can be 10 minutes or 60 minutes just get up and move.”
This month we’ve connected with some local faces and friends to put together our guide of top activities to keep us outdoors and enjoying some of our cities most breathtaking views.
On any given morning you may bump into runner and Gariepy resident Dr. Briana Botsford along the river valley trails. As a naturopathic doctor and mental health expert, Dr. Botsford says experiencing sunlight exposure helps boost energy levels and mood.
“Getting active in the winter is incredibly important to maintain your mental health,” she says. “Endorphins produced during exercise are nature’s best antidepressant.”
Of course, there can be challenges to running outdoors during the winter months and ice build-up should play a big part in your gear choices to help stay safe on the trails.
“Having a good pair of trail shoes, even if you run or walk on the sidewalk, can give you extra traction,” says Dr. Botsford. “You can also use spikes or install screws into a pair of shoes and that will help a lot.”
One of Dr. Botsford’s favourite trails to run is the riverside route from Fort Edmonton over to Hawerlak Park. “It’s a popular route and you’ll run into lots of people enjoying the trails,” she says.
For Downtown resident and true YEG enthusiast, Catherine Vu, the recent discovery of cross-country skiing has meant much more than just a great workout. In 2015, Vu’s friend Erika Elkington died by suicide.
“We were not extremely close but her death took me by surprise and it truly shook me to my core,” Vu says. “In 2017 I decided to ski the 13 kilometre mini-Birkie in Erika’s honour. I did it to help spread awareness and expand the conversation about mental illness.”
The Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival has named the race "Erika's Tour” and money raised will be donated to the Erika Legacy Foundation supporting mental health programming, suicide prevention, and promoting general well-being. For more information on the Foundation or to donate you can click here.
Vu’s favourite areas to ski are Hawrelak or Victoria park for a quick workout, Goldbar Park for it’s amazing trails or the Strathcona Wilderness Centre, if she wants to meet up with friends and make it more of a retreat day. She says to really enjoy any winter activity it’s so important to dress for the occasion.
“It’s not cold if you dress properly. I run, walk, snowshoe and cross-country ski just so I can be outside,” she says. “Being active in the winter months is so important to my health and peace of mind.”
Fatbiking and winter cycling is on the rise in our city. According to Professional Bike fitter, Michael MacFynn with Revolution Cycle, there are ways to get started without making a large initial investment in your own ride.
“Rent first if you are apprehensive, all the major shops have rentals to try before you buy,” says MacFynn. “Fatbiking is best enjoyed if you stay warm, you don't want to overdress but it is important to stay ahead of the cold.”
Fatbikes typically have tires that are four or five inches wide - making them more suited for riding on soft terrain like snow, sand and mud. MacFynn also recommends trying out an App called Trailforks. “It’s an excellent app for helping people get to know local trails.”
Photo Credit: Steven Csorba
Sometimes the gentle encouragement and support of group activities can be all you need to get out and active during the winter. Over the past seven years a movement called the November Project has been growing all over the world. Brought to Edmonton by former Edmonton Oiler, Andrew Ference in 2013, the idea is just to get up, show up and workout, regardless of age or physical ability, and it’s all free. Entrepreneur, Style Consultant and Downtown resident, Lazina McKenzie, has been a November Project ‘tribe’ member for the past few years and she says the feeling you get by participating is electric.
“It's never about the workout. Yes, that's fantastic and a key part of why I show up but what's so special about the tribe is the people,” says Mackenzie. “It's the friendships, the hugs, the high fives, the partner push-ups, the ‘nose boops’, and so much more that keeps us all going. Those things are important when it's dark, -20C, and everyone is bundled up.”
McKenzie has seen a total change in her life and fitness journey since she started getting involved.
“Since joining the tribe, I've become a runner. Now, I am fine running outside at any temperature, in any condition. It's been a complete mind shift for me over the past few years.”
When it comes to mapping out your health and wellness strategy for 2019, Shara Vigeant of SVPT reminds us that we may want to avoid resolutions based on hopes and dreams, instead setting more concrete goals for the New Year. “Set realistic, personal, and specific goals. Make sure its realistic in your current lifestyle. Make sure the goal means something to you. And be specific - don’t say you just want to get in shape,” she says. “Keep track of your progress week by week to see what is working and what is not, life changes and you will have to adjust as you go.”
We hope you bundle up and get active - there is so much life going on in Edmonton, even in the winter, so get out and take advantage of the free stairs, trails and parks available to help with any fitness goals this year.