Snowshoeing has many health benefits

Jim Surrell, MD

The use of snowshoes has been around for a long time. I am sure that many of you know that Bishop Frederic Baraga, who spent many winters traveling by foot throughout the Upper Peninsula, was given the nickname of “The Snowshoe Priest.” This nickname was given out of respect for Bishop Baraga, in recognition of his unwavering commitment to his missionary activities that he pursued regardless of what Upper Peninsula winter weather he faced.

Following is a brief look at the history of snowshoeing.

I was surprised to learn that snowshoeing is known to have been practiced in present-day central Asia many centuries ago. It is believed that as people migrated from Asia to North America, they brought snowshoes with them. At that time, these early snowshoes were merely made up of short modified slabs of wood that were then attached to one’s shoes or boots. The snowshoes then evolved into the wooden framed snowshoes with the raw hide lacing that we commonly associate with snowshoeing today.

At the Iverson Co., located just east of Munising on M-28, they have been handcrafting the finest traditional wood snowshoes for over 60 years.

Let us now take a look at some of the health benefits of snowshoeing. Of course, many people throughout our wonderful U.P. do enjoy snowshoeing on a regular basis, and it is a great way to get out and get some very healthy winter exercise.

Check out the following quotes from Dr. Declan Connolly. Dr. Connolly is an exercise expert from the Exercise Physiology Department at the University of Vermont. “Snowshoeing is an effective, low impact, and safe form of exercise to change body composition. It burns up to twice the number of calories as walking at the same speed. Snowshoeing utilizes major muscle groups which, when combined with a higher metabolic rate in cold weather, and the added resistance of moving through snow, results in a high-energy activity.”

When a person goes snowshoeing, it is very important to dress properly for the cold winter weather. Of course, the U.P.’s weather can change quite rapidly, and this can lead to a significant drop in temperature, or additional unplanned snowfall. As with any exercise, it is very important to stay hydrated when snowshoeing, so be sure to bring along some water or a sports drink. I also recommend you keep a snack item with you, such as a healthy protein bar, as you may be out there longer than originally planned. If you decide to go out alone, it is wise to advise someone where you intend to go and perhaps give them a rough idea of when you plan to return.

When snowshoeing, one can choose whether they wish to snowshoe on primarily level ground, or make it more challenging by choosing a more hilly environment. Of course, one can also choose the pace with which they do their snowshoeing, as they take the time to enjoy the winter scenery. One can also choose to go snowshoeing alone, or they can make it a fun winter activity with family and friends. The sport of snowshoeing can truly be a fun way to get some healthy winter exercise while enjoying our U.P. winters.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Jim Surrell is the author of “The ABC’s For Success In All We Do” and the “SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet” books. He has his practice at the Digestive Health Clinic at U.P. Health System-Marquette. Requests for health topics for this column are encouraged. Contact Dr. Surrell by email at