How to Stay Healthy in Chicago

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Here are 5 Winter Activities to Keep You Active

Chicago is a great city, full of theaters, museums, massive sculptures, hiking trails, top-rated restaurants, shopping, a sprawling lakefront and so much to do. However, even the most seasoned and devoted Chicagoans often ask themselves why they live here once January or February rolls around. Winter in Chicago is not an easy time for many as the winds pick up, ice accumulates, snow falls and temperatures drop. Yet, there still is so much to do in this great city and there are so many ways to stay healthy and active while enjoying what Chicago has to offer.

In addition to being active and healthy physically, the following activities are good for your mind and spirit, as well. If you are struggling with mental health issues, drug use disorders, or experiencing pain, it may be easy to just stay inside — especially when the weather is cold and grey. Yet, this is when it is critical that you push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Get outside, explore the city, breathe fresh air, be active, and focus on staying healthy with all of the active options that arise when there is a frozen Lake Michigan outside your window! Chicago winter can be something that you actually look forward to as the snow-covered trees are the perfect backdrop for so many healthy, winter days.

  1. Go Ice Skating — Ice skating rinks offer some of the best options for outdoor fun in Chicago when the weather is cold. It is a great way to get fresh air, exercise, and also see some sights while doing so. Well-known attractions such as Millennium Park, Navy Pier, and Maggie Daley Park have rinks available. Plus, these places offer rentals for ice skates making it an easy, fun winter activity for all ages. With many public transportation options, getting to a nearby ice rink in the windy city is easy. Once you are there in your warm layers, you have the vantage point of seeing the sights of Chicago while also exercising under a starry, wintery night or during a crisp, cool day.
  2. Visit the Zoo — Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo is open all year, and many of its inhabitants love the cold. Animals such as penguins and polar bears can be seeing playing outside during the colder months. This is a great time to bundle up and enjoy the zoo when it is a lot less crowded than some of the warmer months. It is good for your well-being to bundle up and walk around the zoo while getting your step count for the day closer to your goal. The zoo’s visitors are welcome to warm up inside too, where you can step indoors to explore some of the various animal houses.
  3. Practice Being Mindful at an Outdoor or Indoor Garden — Chicago has beautiful gardens and conservatories that are open year round. Many of these facilities are free, easily accessible, and great places to simply admire natural beauty. Especially when it is cold and grey in Chicago, it is great to get lost for a few hours in a peaceful garden that is full of life, color, and beauty. Visiting a garden is a fantastic way to quiet your mind while escaping the hustle and bustle of the city. Check out the Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier, and the Garfield Park Conservatory. Also, just north of Chicago is the renowned Chicago Botanical Gardens, which hosts many events throughout the year. Check for details about online reservations before you head out to the gardens.
  4. Admire Frozen Lake Michigan — This year, Lake Michigan has been in the news for its unique pancake-looking ice formations. The rings of ice that form on Lake Michigan are known as ice pancakes, and they can be a great photo opportunity as it is not something that you come across that often. These unusual formations can obviously only be seen when it is very cold, so take advantage of Chicago’s chilly temperatures and head out for a visual adventure. Wear warm layers, bring a camera or a good camera phone and maybe try to even capture the golden hours of sunrise or sunset. Even if the unique ice pancakes are not present, Lake’s Michigan’s moods are powerful to see. The ice, snow, and wind provide for a lakefront that is artistic in its own way.
  5. Walk the Lakefront Trail — An 18-mile trail that extends from Chicago’s north side to its south side runs along Lake Michigan’s beautiful shoreline. The trail is open day and night, all year round, providing a great paved path for long, wintery walks. You can get your heart rate up by walking briskly, while you take in the surroundings. Walking is great exercise, and it can be a meditation in itself, too. Take a few moments to just walk, breathe in the crisp air, and be grateful for the experience.

Do not feel that you need to stay inside when it gets cold and snowy in Chicago. There are still so many activities that you can do that are good for both your physical and mental health. Sometimes the options may not be as obvious, but they do abound — there is so much to do on a winter day in Chicago. You do not need a New Year’s resolution to stay healthy and active: Simply get out there and enjoy all that Chicago has to offer. So, lace up your boots, eat something healthy and nutritious, and then set out for a Chicago winter adventure.

Reviewed by Dr. Beth Dunlap

Reviewed by Dr. Beth Dunlap

Reviewed by Dr. Beth Dunlap

Dr. Beth Dunlap, a board-certified addiction medicine and family medicine physician, is the medical director at CRC Institute, where she is responsible for overseeing all the integrated medical services at the Institute. Beth completed medical school, residency, and fellowship at Northwestern University, where she continues to serve on the faculty as a member of the Department of Family and Community Medicine. She has extensive experience in addiction medicine at all levels of care, and her clinical interests include integrated primary care and addiction medicine, harm reduction, and medication-assisted treatment.

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