Is Snowshoeing Good Exercise? Examining the Health Benefits of Snowshoeing

Health Benefits of Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing is without a doubt one of the best ways to remain active during the cold, winter months. While many participate in the sport to seek peace and solitude within nature, others are hoping to find an active winter workout to keep their bodies active and in shape.

Many beginner snowshoers often ask whether snowshoeing is good exercise or how many calories are burned snowshoeing. The truth is that snowshoeing is a very underrated activity to get a great workout and can burn hundreds of calories an hour.

The health benefits of snowshoeing fall under three main categories, which are building cardiovascular strength, building muscular strength, and improving mental health. Let’s examine these benefits in more detail as well as review precautions and exercises that can keep you in shape for snowshoeing season.

Woman running on snowshoes

Build Cardiovascular Endurance

Snowshoeing is a great way to improve the strength of your cardiovascular system. This activity will burn calories and lead to fat loss. From a health perspective, cardio exercise strengthens the heart and improves lung capacity, while also lowering the risk for certain diseases such as heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.

One metric that exercise scientists use to quantify the energy expended during a specific sport or workout is known as the metabolic equivalent of a task (MET). Research has shown that snowshoeing actually has a higher metabolic equivalent than hiking, and comparable to cross-country skiing.

Another study concluded that “snowshoeing provides a moderate to strenuous intensity workout which is well within the guidelines recommended by [the American College of Sports Medicine] to improve cardiorespiratory endurance and positively alter body composition.”

How many calories burned while snowshoeing?

Snowshoeing is estimated to burn between 420 and 774 calories per hour, depending on factors such as intensity and terrain of the activity. Gender can even impact how many calories are burned, as one study found that men on average burn more calories than women while snowshoeing.

For a more intensive workout, the following methods can burn more calories while snowshoeing:

  • “Breaking trail” over a trail of fresh powder is more labor-intensive and burns more calories.
  • Choosing routes that feature more uphill and downhill terrain versus comparably flatter trails.
  • Snowshoe running, or even competitive snowshoe racing.
  • Speeding up your normal pace.

Build Muscle

Snowshoeing without a doubt will increase your leg strength. The primary leg muscles groups that are used are the calfs, quads, and hamstrings.

However, the activity can also become an entire full body workout that utilizes muscle groups in your arms, legs, core, and abdomen.  This sport can help build and target chest, back, bicep and tricep muscles particularly by using snowshoe poles.

Improve Mental Health 

There are also mental health benefits from snowshoeing. Many studies suggest that spending time outdoors in nature is associated with improved mental health, such as one study that found ninety minutes of walking outside led to decreased risk of mental illness.

In winter time, most people experience less production of vitamin D and higher production of melatonin. This can lead to “winter blues”, known clinically as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Snowshoeing can also prevent winter seasonal affective disorder since spending time outdoors maximizes natural sunlight intake.

Health Precautions

While snowshoeing introduces many health benefits to stay active during the winter, there are some precautions to keep in mind. Snowshoeing in particular can have a negative impact to knees and lead to injuries such as sprains, strains, and meniscal tears.  

Besdies knee injuries, there is a higher risk of hip and ankle injuries, which are other joints that undergo more stress. These risks are compounded by slips and falls.

As with any outdoor activity that takes place in colder climates, hypothermia and frostbite are also health risks that should be kept in mind.

Follow proper technique and stick to trails that you are comfortable using with your equipment. If you have any health concerns or pre-existing injuries, we also recommend consulting with your physician to make sure you are safe to snowshoe.

Best exercises to train for snowshoeing

Finally, training before or during the season can improve your enjoyment on the trails and allow you to tackle longer routes with less exertion – and soreness. Some cross-training activities include to focus on include:

  • Weightlifting, to target leg muscles
  • Core exercises, such as planks and leg crunches, to train your abdominal and stabilizer muscles.
  • Hiking and trail-running, to build endurance and cardio, as well as train your legs to traveling over uneven terrain.

Four specific leg exercises to strengthen your knees include:

  • Lunges
  • High step-ups
  • Spinal twists
  • Wall sits

In conclusion, whether you are looking to take your first steps in a new fitness journey or wanting to find an enjoyable activity to supplement other fitness activities such as running or hiking, snowshoeing can be a primary source of fitness or a great way to cross-train this winter.