Diet Detective: 10 Tips for Winter Health and Fitness

by Charles Platkin, PhD
  1. Video Games

    Yes, that’s right. Video games like Dancetown or Wii Fit can burn calories. The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that the average heart rate during a video game session was similar to the heart rate during strength training. But keep in mind, if you want to burn calories you need to make sure the game involves the entire body, not just the upper body, so you get the most calorie bang for your buck. Researchers reporting in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that calorie burning was significantly lower for games played primarily through upper–body movements compared with those that engaged the lower body. See the following ACE fitness test results comparing Dancetown to Wii Fit.

  2. Buy a Treadmill from the Classifieds

    Many people have said that a treadmill is the most expensive coat rack you’ll ever own. But one person’s mistake can mean another’s advantage. You can get a very good treadmill by looking online at sites like eBay and Craigslist. Do your research to find good quality units, and make sure to test one first. Recently, I was able to buy a $4,000 treadmill for about $600. The best way to make sure you’ll use it is to watch TV or do something special only during your treadmill time. I pick a TV series I haven’t seen and watch it only while I’m on the treadmill. Try Netflix,, using Apple TV or your cable network’s on–demand service.

  3. An At–Home (No Equipment) Workout from The American Council on Exercise (ACE)

    I really like the idea of getting in shape without using any equipment. ACE provides a challenging total–body workout that can be done in the comfort of home with no equipment other than your own body weight. Also, see more at–home exercises and a routine that I developed along with detailed instructions.

  4. Interesting Indoor Activities

    Company or plant tour: Many companies offer tours of their facilities that are a great way to get exercise and see something interesting.

    Shopping: There are more than a thousand shopping malls in the United States. Walk the entire mall for a good 30 minutes at moderate speed. The level flooring and air conditioning or heating are excellent motivators for using the mall as a walking spot. Just think twice before you chow down at the food court.

    Museums, libraries and galleries: Natural history, art or design museums, art galleries, libraries, planetariums and more, all provide comfortable spaces for walking at your own pace with plenty of visual stimulation. Organized tours are often free or inexpensive and generally run 30–60 minutes. A great place to start your search here.

  5. Soup it Up

    Soup is a great way to warm up and fill up. Researchers have shown that eating low–calorie soup really does help you lose weight. Keep an eye on portions and sodium — no more than 120 calories per bowl. Try this great chicken soup recipe (that may even fight off cold and flu).

  6. Make Sure You Do Not Slip

    The journal Accident Analysis and Prevention analyzed the wintertime effects of using anti–slip devices. According to the research, which looked at Swedish pedestrians, slipping and falling is a major safety problem. In Sweden alone, about 25,000–30,000 people need medical care every year for treatment of fall injuries. The study indicated that by using appropriate anti–slip devices people avoid having slips and falls. The study respondents who were experienced in using anti–slip devices said they would continue to use them and would also recommend that others use them. The respondents also indicated that when they used anti–slip devices they walked more.

    Yaktrax Walkers are simple–to–use, lightweight traction devices that you can slip right over any flat boot or shoe whenever there is snow or ice on the ground. They have high–strength horizontal coils that provide forward and backward as well as side–to–side stability and can be worn in temperatures as low as minus 41 degrees. The Walkers are $20; the Pros, which have even more traction and can be used for running, are $30.

  7. Get Out in the Cold

    You actually do burn more calories when you are outside in the cold weather. According to Andrew J. Young, Ph.D., of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass., “There are two factors that could cause energy expenditure to increase with falling outdoor temperatures. First, if shivering is elicited by cold, then energy expenditure increases. However, different people have differing shivering-response sensitivity, and intensity of shivering will be influenced by magnitude of decrease in body (deep core and skin) temperature, which in turn is influenced by body size and fat content, which vary widely among people, as well as clothing worn. So some folks don’t shiver at all (well–dressed, lots of body fat), and a man in the cold is not always a cold man. The other reason energy expenditure might increase in cold weather is if you perform heavy physical labor (walk in deep snow, carry or wear heavy clothing).” Additionally, there is a likelihood that you could have a slight increase in calorie burn (about 3 to 7 percent) from your body re–warming itself from cold air touching your skin and warming the cold air that goes into your lungs, adds Wayne Askew, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at the University of Utah.

  8. Winter Activities Burn Calories

    We don’t need researchers to tell us that we exercise less in the winter — but, according to a review in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, adults are more physically active during leisure time in the summer than in the winter. People walk two to three times more for pleasure in spring–summer–fall seasons compared with winter. In addition, outdoor activities such as gardening and lawn–mowing tend to replace indoor pastimes such as home exercise and bowling.

    There are plenty of calorie–burning activities you can do outside in the winter: skating, sledding, downhill and cross–country skiing, snowboarding, hiking and snowshoeing. Check out,,,, and for interesting outdoor ideas, and see the calorie burn from the activities below.

    • Ice Skating, 8.2 calories per minute
    • Ice Skating, Fast, 10.5 calories per minute
    • Ice Skating, Speed, Competitive, 17.6 calories per minute
    • Skiing, General, 8.2 calories per minute
    • Skiing, Downhill, Light Effort, 5.9 calories per minute
    • Skiing, Downhill, Moderate Effort, General, 7.0 calories per minute
    • Skiing, Downhill, Vigorous Effort, Racing, 9.4 calories per minute
    • Skiing, Cross Country, 2.5 Mph, Slow or Light Effort, Ski Walking, 8.2 calories per minute
    • Skiing, Cross Country, 4.0-4.9 Mph, Moderate Speed and Effort, General, 9.4 calories per minute
    • Skiing, Cross Country, 5.0-7.9 Mph, Brisk Speed, Vigorous Effort, 10.5 calories per minute
    • Skiing, Cross Country, >8.0 Mph, Racing, 16.4 calories per minute
    • Skiing, Cross Country, Hard Snow, Uphill, Maximum, Snow Mountaineering, 19.3 calories per minute
    • Sledding, Tobogganing, Bobsledding, Luge, 8.2 calories per minute
    • Snowshoeing, 9.4 calories per minute
    • Snowmobiling, 4.1 calories per minute
  9. Safety First

    Dr. Alexis Chiang Colvin, an assistant professor of sports medicine in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, has a few tips for a healthy skiing, snowboarding and ice skating experience:

    • Take a lesson. For beginners, it is important to learn how to stop safely; for the advanced, a lesson by a professional can help correct bad or unsafe habits.
    • Wear a helmet and other protective gear such as wrist guards if skiing or snowboarding. Even if you are going on the bunny slopes, you are still at risk for a head injury if you fall.
    • Wear warm clothing with multiple layers that can be shed if you get wet or too hot. Fabrics other than cotton, such as wool or fleece, provide better insulation when they get wet.
    • Wear appropriately sized gear that has been maintained and checked by a professional.
    • Go with a friend. No matter the activity, there is safety in numbers.
    • Get in shape before you ski or snowboard — don’t use skiing or snowboarding as a means to get into shape.
    • Know when to call it a day. Many skiing and snowboarding injuries occur on the last run of the day, so realize when you have had enough and get back to the lodge.
    • Use designated areas only. Ski, snowboard or skate in areas that have been specifically designated for those activities.
  10. Buy or Rent a Fitness DVD There are now thousands of great workout DVDs to choose from. Check out, which offers more than 700 online video previews to help you find the right one for your workout. You can also rent fitness DVDs at
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