Ask the Expert – Give snowshoeing a try

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Q: Several years ago I was given a pair of snowshoes and they have been gathering dust in my garage ever since. We get a lot of snow and I typically spend the winter training on my elliptical machine. Following your advice, I am trying to embrace winter. I have snowshoed several times and each time I finished exhausted, soaked in sweat, and looking forward to going out again. Is snowshoeing a good fitness activity?

— Jacques

A: Dear Jacques;

Wonderful to hear you are enjoying some outdoor winter activity! People have been using snowshoes for thousands of years, and it is one of the fastest growing winter sports in Canada. Here are some reasons why snowshoeing is a fantastic form of exercise:

• Snowshoeing is easy to learn because it doesn’t require a lot of skill—if someone can walk, they can snowshoe!

• Compared to many sports, snowshoeing is relatively inexpensive. It requires little equipment and can be done in places that don’t charge admission fees.

• It is efficient. Snowshoeing is reported to burn about 45 percent more calories per minute than running, walking, or cross-country skiing at the same pace. Depending on how hard a person works, snowshoeing can burn between 600-1000 calories per hour—that’s a lot of energy!

• The cushioning effect of the snow makes snowshoeing a low impact activity—something that people with wear and tear on their joints appreciate.

• Snowshoeing with poles gives a great total body workout: lower body, upper body, and core.

• Snowshoeing is an excellent form of cross-training for people at every level of fitness.

• If someone enjoys nature, they can snowshoe in amazing places that runners, walkers, and cross-country skiers simply cannot go.

• With the lightweight equipment now available, people have started snowshoe running, which provides a demanding cardio workout.

• Snowshoeing is a relatively low-risk activity, provided the person knows his or her physical limitations and remains aware. People who snowshoe do need to pay attention to hazards such as avalanches, frostbite, hypothermia, predatory animals, and getting lost.

The bottom line is that snowshoeing offers an efficient low-impact workout that can be done in places you may not be able to enjoy in any other way. Why not give it a try—you might even run into Jacques sweating in the woods. Exercise is medicine!

—Dr. Darrell Menard, MD Dip Sport Med

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