We all know exercising is good for our bodies. And I’m sure your doctor also constantly reminds you of this fact. In colder months, however, when it is time to layer up, we often reduce our physical activity.
But it’s important to remain active year-round. So, what’s the solution? Make sure you engage in safe, cold-weather activities.
Ideally, thirty minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking and biking, should be performed five days a week, according to the American Heart Association. In addition to cardiovascular benefits, regular movement lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes, improves attention span and processing speed, and improves mood.
As a whole, being active contributes to both physical and mental health. However, that’s just scratching the surface. In this article, we will explore the benefits of physical activity in the winter as well as some options for doing it.
Winter Workout Wonders: Why You Should Embrace the Chill
A healthy, happier, and more productive you, can be achieved by staying active in winter.
The immune system and physical health can be boosted.
There is no better time to catch colds, flu, and other viruses than winter. Fortunately, regular exercise can help you keep these unwelcome guests at bay.
Through physical activity, our immune system is boosted by increasing white blood cell production, our body’s defense against pathogens. Studies have shown that 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise 4-5 times a week combined with a balanced diet and plenty of sleep actually reduces your risk of getting a cold by 20 to 30%.
A winter blues remedy.
As well as being hard on our bodies winter can also be hard on our minds. The shorter days and fewer hours of sunshine can exacerbate seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression characterized by fatigue, low mood, and a lack of motivation. Fortunately, exercise has powerful antidepressant properties.
As a result of physical activity, endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals, are released, elevating mood and combating feelings of anxiety and stress. Taking a brisk walk outdoors can boost your mood and help you positively embrace the winter season.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Several factors contribute to weight gain during the winter. Some include shorter days, longer nights, cold weather, decreased exercise, and changes in sleep habits. Our tendency to overindulge on special occasions and the abundance associated with holiday meals can add several pounds to our weight as we enter the New Year.
The good news is that exercise can help you maintain your weight or even lose weight despite seasonal temptations.
Improve sleep quality.
According to studies, “We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality,” says Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital.
“But there’s still some debate about what time of day you should exercise. I encourage people to listen to their bodies to see how well they sleep in response to when they work out,” she adds.
Enhance cognitive function.
Exercise has been shown to increase brain volume in the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory. “Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.
As well as improving mood and sleep, exercise also reduces stress and anxiety, which can boost memory and thinking indirectly. Often, cognitive impairment occurs as a result of problems in these areas.
Boost energy levels.
Feeling sluggish and tired all the time? Inactivity can worsen fatigue, making it harder to get out and move. Your energy level will rise when you exercise because it increases your heart rate, gets the blood flowing, and releases endorphins.
Ultimately, your body thrives on movement, just like your car engine requires regular maintenance to keep running smoothly. It is possible to suffer a cascade of negative consequences if you don’t exercise during winter.
Winter-Friendly Activities: Move Your Body, Have Fun
It is essential to find activities you enjoy and that fit your lifestyle in winter to stay active. To get you moving, here are some ideas.
Embrace the great indoors.
The possibilities for working out at home are endless, no matter what your fitness level or goals may be. For starters, try these ideas:
- Bodyweight exercises. No equipment is required for these exercises, which use your own body weight as resistance. These exercises are great for building strength and endurance, and there are endless variations to keep things interesting. Planks, push-ups, squats, and burpees are some examples.
- Cardio. Your heart health and overall fitness depend on cardio. If you feel like getting your cardio in at home, you can run in place, jump jacks, do high knees, skip rope, or dance. If you prefer to follow along with fitness videos, you can also try online cardio workouts.
- Strength training. Strength training exercises can be performed at home with either bodyweight or free weights if you want to build muscle. Use household items such as water bottles or milk jugs instead of weights if you don’t have them. Rows, shoulder presses, and bicep curls are among the strength training exercises.
- Yoga or pilates. You can improve your flexibility, balance, and core strength through yoga and Pilates. In books and magazines, you can find beginner yoga and Pilates routines and online yoga and Pilates classes.
- Join a virtual fitness class. You can take virtual fitness classes online at home. You can do this as an alternative to going to the gym if you don’t have time.
- Dance. You can burn calories and increase your heart rate by dancing to your favorite music.
- Do chores with more vigor. You can reach your physical activity goals by doing housework such as vacuuming, sweeping, and cleaning windows. Besides getting some things done on your to-do list, you’ll also gain some health benefits. You can also work out at home by walking or running up and down stairs.
Depending on your interests and goals, there are many great indoor fitness options, including:
- Swimming in an indoor pool
- Rock climbing
- Joining a cycling, spin, or martial arts class.
Bundle up and head outdoors.
There are plenty of outdoor activities to keep you active this winter, regardless of whether you live in an area without traditional winter sports or want a change of scenery.
- Go for a brisk walk or jog. If the weather permits, spend some time in nature during the day. Just put on warm clothing and enjoy a stroll through a park or a neighborhood that is safe.
- Hit the slopes. Winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing are great for exercising while also enjoying the winter cold.
- Have a snowball fight or go sledding. With friends or family, have a playful snowball fight or sled ride. Not only will you get some exercise, you’ll probably laugh while doing it.
Make it fun and social.
- Buddy up with a friend or family member. You can stay motivated and enjoy exercising more if you have someone to do it with.
- Join a winter sports league. You can stay active and meet new people by playing basketball, volleyball, or indoor soccer. Or, if you want to stay outside, join a hockey team.
- Take an outdoor boot camp or a winter nature photography class. This keeps your body moving, and you might even meet some new people.
- Volunteer your time. Volunteering at a local soup kitchen or shoveling snow for elderly neighbors are good deeds and give you some exercise.
It doesn’t matter how small the change is — it can make a huge difference. Try to fit in short bursts of exercise throughout the day, and gradually increase the durations and intensities of your workouts. But, most importantly, find activities you enjoy.
What are some common winter exercise excuses?
Winter is a time when excuses pile up like snowdrifts when it comes to exercising. To get you moving, we need to dispel the following myths:
- “It’s too cold!” Don’t forget to dress in layers, buy appropriate winter gear, and pick activities based on the weather. You can walk, ice skate, or snowshoe just as much as you can run in the summer.
- “I don’t have time.” The smallest bursts of activity can add up. Work out for 10 minutes during your lunch break, do bodyweight exercises while watching TV, or take the stairs rather than the elevator.
- “I don’t have a gym membership.” Staying active doesn’t require expensive gym memberships or fancy equipment. Join a community fitness class, explore your local park, or use free online workouts.
- “I hate exercising alone.” Join a group fitness class or find a workout buddy for motivation and social interaction. As well as getting active and having fun with friends, winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding are great ways to stay active.
How can I stay active in the winter?
Finding activities that you enjoy and can fit into your schedule is the key:
- Outdoor activities. Whether you want to walk briskly, ski, ice skate, or shovel snow, bundle up and head outside.
- Indoor activities. Getting fit can be as easy as joining a gym or fitness class, trying home workouts with online videos or apps, dancing to your favorite music, or climbing stairs.
- Winter sports. Many indoor leagues and recreational options are available for sports like basketball, volleyball, and swimming.
- Social activities. Join a hiking group, take an active class, or walk your dog with a neighbor.
What are some tips for staying motivated in the winter?
- Set realistic goals. You can gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts by starting with small, attainable goals.
- Find an activity you enjoy. You’ll be more likely to stick with it if you do this.
- Exercise with a friend or family member. Staying motivated and accountable is easier when you have someone to exercise with.
- Reward yourself for your progress. Keep yourself motivated by celebrating your accomplishments.
- Dress appropriately. Wear layers of warm clothing and proper footwear to stay comfortable in the cold.
- Listen to your body. You shouldn’t push yourself too hard, and you should take rest days when you need them.
Is it safe to exercise in cold weather?
While exercising in cold weather is generally safe, it’s essential to take precautions:
- Dress in layers. Stay dry and comfortable by wearing layers of warm, breathable clothing.
- Cover your head, hands, and feet. Frostbite is most likely to occur in these areas.
- Be aware of the wind chill. The wind can make it feel colder than it really is.
- Start slowly and gradually increase your intensity. As your body adjusts to the cold, it takes time.
- Take breaks indoors if you get too cold. Make sure you don’t overdo it.
I’m not very active; can I still benefit from staying active in the winter?
Having even a little activity is better than having none at all. A small change, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking for 15 minutes a day, can have a significant impact.
Image Credt: Daniel Frank; Pexels
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