Frigid Chicago winters often make us cower inside, afraid of venturing outdoors, especially for exercising. But the truth is, the bitter cold doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Last year, I learned to embrace the cold. Granted, it took a trip to polar territory—Marquette, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula—to do so. But there, I was amazed to find that even in -15 degrees, the lakefront trail was filled with runners, hoarfrost dangling from their beards. Dedicated cyclists rode through the snow-filled streets on fat bikes with 3.8-inch tires. Wind chills of -30 didn’t stop snowshoe devotees from hitting the white trails.
I participated in all of the above activities, and more, and discovered that it’s true what the Norwegians say: There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.
Eric Chehab, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute, and Illinois Bone and Joint Institute, agrees. He says that accepting the cold and even finding ways to enjoy it is good for both the body and spirit.
“I think it’s terrific just to be outdoors, doing something different and embracing the winter climate,” he says. “I think it’s a key way of getting through the winter without developing the blues.”
Chehab is inspired by a co-worker who looks forward to winter every year so she can snowshoe to work. “She can’t wait for winter to come and gets disappointed when the temperature goes above 32 degrees,” he says.
Last winter, that dedication inspired Chehab to commune with his own inner Evgeni Plushenko—he tried ice skating for the first time at his local park. He found that not only was it a great workout, but he also had a blast.
“I didn’t want the ice to melt, I wanted to go out and skate,” he says. “It completely changed my perspective on the winter weather here in Chicago.”
Chehab says that whatever winter sport you participate in, follow some basic rules: Dress appropriately, wear the proper protective equipment and listen to your body. Also, use common sense. If you’re hearing polar vortex warnings on the news, you might want to hold off on the outdoor activity.
“There probably are some days when you just have to take a pass,” he says. “That’s sort of the way winter is.”
Originally published in the Winter/Spring 2015 print edition
Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.