Fitness in the winter can be challenging. The weather outside is frightful – snow too deep, puddles too big, walkways too slippery – how do you ensure that you and your dog get enough exercise?
While it’s important to get outside as much as you can during the winter, walks and romps can often be cut short by anything from freezing temperatures and bitter winds to bone-chilling rains and icy surfaces. If the return of colder weather turns you both into couch potatoes, here are some fitness tips to keep yourselves moving to help stay fit during the winter months, both indoors or out, whatever the weather.
Safe outdoor exercise
• During the winter, walks will usually be shorter, but you can make up for it by going out more frequently. You don’t have to do all your exercise in one session – the benefits of physical activity are cumulative. Instead of taking your dog for one long walk each day, try two shorter walks, perhaps one in the morning and one in the afternoon or evening.
• Most dogs love playing in snow, but not all snow is the same, and they can get wet, cold and tired more quickly depending on its type and quality. Fluffy snow is easier for your dog to play in than wet snow because it’s lighter and “drier”. “In light, fluffy snow, bury a favorite toy just under the surface so the dog can ‘rescue’ it,” suggests Joel Silverman, Hollywood dog trainer and television host. In wetter snow, a game of “find the snowball” offers a good workout, but keep it brief as your dog will tire more quickly when the snow is heavy and harder to move through.
On days when it’s too cold or stormy to be outside for long, indoor exercise is just as beneficial and fun as going outside. “Train new behaviors or sign up for a tricks class,” says Joel. “Agility’s also a year-round sport, often done indoors. Both humans and dogs get to run, and jumps, tunnels and weave poles give the dogs lots of exercise.”
No time or budget for a class? Make an agility course at home. Dining room chairs can mimic weave poles, and both you and your dog can Conga through them. An upside down chair with a blanket over it can be a tunnel substitute for small or mid-sized dogs to crawl through. Jumps and steps can be made with heavy boxes.
Here are some more innovative ways you and your dog can have a successful fitness routine in this winter.
• When Sparky stops to read his “pee-mail” on walks, burn some extra calories and keep yourself warm by jogging on the spot or doing a few pushups against a fence or building. Stretch your calf muscles with heel lifts on the curb, or do a few left/right lunges.
• If your dog loves to retrieve in the snow, you can use games of fetch to improve your own biceps by using both arms to throw, not just your dominant one. Burn more calories by chasing the ball with him. Keep the game short if the weather is very cold or the snow is heavy and wet.
• On indoor days, combine bowling and fetch. Using a long hallway, set up empty plastic soda bottles and bowl with your dog’s favorite ball. He’ll burn calories fetching the ball while you get exercise bowling and working as a pin-setter. A variation on this game is to set up a line of bottles across the hall and then throw the ball beyond them. This presents a puzzle for your dog as he figures out how to get the ball without knocking over the bottles. Of course, some dogs will plow right through – be prepared for noise!
• Sit-ups and leg lifts can be enlivened with your dog’s help. While you do sit-ups, he can sit on your feet and keep them flat on the floor. When doing leg lifts, the temptation is to drop your legs when it starts to hurt. Teach your dog to do an “army crawl” beneath your legs as you lift – no dropping them until he’s clear!
• Your waistline can improve by teaching your dog to “figure eight” around your left leg/right leg. As you lure him with a treat, your side muscles get a good stretch.
• You can also use your treadmill to exercise your dog, but never leave him unattended.
A nasty winter day doesn’t have to mean a boring or lazy day. Get creative and find ways to enhance your fitness activities with your dog indoors. It’s a fun way to stay fit and spend time together, and your dog will love the attention and activity!