Once winter is in full swing, the pleasures of semi-hibernation often win out over the rewards of a workout. Skipping a day of exercise is that much easier when it’s cold, dark and the alternative is curling up with a mug of cocoa or glass of wine.
Unfortunately, those sedentary afternoons and evenings will add up. Add in a few rich holiday meals and sweets and you may find yourself heading into the new year with a few extra pounds around your midsection.
Don’t wait until the spring to get back in shape. With a little self-motivation, you can stay active and healthy this winter.
Consider taking up a sport that you won’t be able to do in another season. Snowshoeing, downhill or cross-country skiing, snowboarding, and winter hiking offer intensive workouts while letting you enjoy the beauty of a snowy trail.
Some outdoor activities can be continued year-round with a little extra effort. Winterizing a bicycle, by taking steps like adding fenders and studded tires, allows you to keep riding comfortably. Committed runners can also keep up the sport during the winter.
Yes, it’s cold and windy out there, but would you really prefer to work out on a hot humid day? A winter workout lets you stay warm and exercise more efficiently. Dayle Stark, Doctor of Physical Therapy with Hartford Healthcare, says you’ll be able to work out longer and more intensely without an increased heart rate. This also results in benefits such as a more stable core temperature and increased utilization of fat for energy expenditure.
Simply getting outside for some fresh air and sunlight will boost your mood. You may also experience better sleep, improved concentration, and better absorption of calcium to strengthen bone density.
You’ll need to take some extra precautions for outdoor workouts. Keep an eye on the forecast to make sure you won’t get caught in a snowstorm. Watch your footing to avoid slips on icy surfaces. Stark says you should always warm up before exercising, make sure you are properly hydrated, and consult with your doctor if you have any health concerns.
Make smart decisions with your clothing. Cotton or similar material will absorb sweat, leaving you with wet clothes that do little to keep you warm. Dress in layers with synthetic fibers, and use bright colors or even strap-on lights to make sure drivers can see you.
“Ideally, try to avoid the extreme dark periods of the day or night, so you’ll be readily visible to motorists,” says Sung Park, a physical therapist and outpatient rehabilitation manager at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital.
Protect your extremities with thick socks, gloves, and a hat. The sun can still be a damaging factor as well; wear sunscreen and sunglasses on bright days.
Some winter sports won’t require you to bundle up and head into the cold. Swimming at an indoor pool lets you to enjoy a strenuous yet low-impact workout.
Basketball is also a traditional winter sport, since it’s easy to schedule practices and games on an indoor court. Community centers and other venues usually open their courts for pick-up games, giving you a chance to meet new people and engage in a friendly competition.
Indoor sports arenas typically feature playing surfaces for numerous different sports. Tennis is one popular option, and pickleball has also been growing in popularity. The facilities also offer leagues for sports like soccer, football, volleyball, and lacrosse.
Hit the gym
It’s an annual tradition: countless people converging on the gym, determined to keep a New Year’s resolution. Of course, gym regulars know that these newcomers tend to gradually fade away, done in by a busy schedule or lackluster results on their weight loss plan.
Yet committing to indoor workouts will considerably improve your health. Stark says you’ll be able to maintain cardiovascular health, preserve muscle mass, and engage in cross training to strengthen movement patterns you may neglect in your outdoor workouts.
Look at a gym’s schedule to see what sort of classes are offered, and see if they offer one-on-one sessions with a personal trainer as well. By treating these as appointments you need to keep, you’ll be motivated more strongly to get to the gym.
If you want to make your own workout schedule, make sure to exercise different muscle groups so you don’t overexert yourself. Build in one or two rest days as well.
Running on a treadmill is a different experience than running outside, and watching the timer count down can be a tedious and demoralizing experience. One way to make these runs more enjoyable is to key up a virtual run on your phone or tablet. Accounts such as Treadmill TV on YouTube give you a first-person view of a ramble along a trail, providing a more immersive experience and letting you enjoy the scenery of sites around the world.
Research specialty gyms to see if they appeal to you. These often focus on more high-intensity workouts, such as boxing, weightlifting, or CrossFit. You can also consider enrolling with a yoga studio, or programs such as aquatic exercise offered by the YMCA.
Check with your town’s recreational department to see what exercise programs they offer over the winter. These classes meet regularly and include fun, active options such as pilates and kickboxing.
Listen to your body and give yourself a break if anything feels off. Stark says you may need to gradually adapt to treadmill running or other workouts to avoid irritating muscle groups or causing injury.
Exclusively working out indoors has certain limitations as well. You won’t receive benefits such as exposure to sunlight, and it can be stressful to maintain a gym membership or arrive at a venue and find that it is crowded. Coupling gym workouts with outdoor exercise, even a quick walk during a lunch break, can be a helpful strategy.
Consider an exercise plan that allows you to gradually ramp up your workout over time, such as Couch to 5K or Strength and Flex. There are also a plethora of videos online that can guide you through home workouts, often in as little as 10 to 15 minutes.
Don’t forget that exercise is only one aspect of your overall health. Park says you’ll also want to make sure you’re working to eat a healthy diet and taking steps to reduce stress.