Winter is a special time of year. It’s a season of festive holidays and long, cozy evenings spent with friends and family.
Yet, many of the things that make winter so special can work against us when it comes to keeping up our physical activity routine. Packed calendars, short days and bad weather are practically ready-made excuses for staying home on the couch rather than lacing up our shoes and working out.
But staying active throughout winter is important. It is, of course, great for overall health. It can also give you a boost in energy and mood and help you avoid the weight gain many people experience over the winter holidays.
And winter workouts can actually be fun and pretty easy to fit in – even if they can take a bit of extra planning. See which of these tips can help you keep moving through winter:
Embrace the change of seasons
It’s easy to miss warm weather and lots of daylight, but try to embrace the change of seasons as an opportunity – a chance to try some new activities, meet new workout partners, or simply to challenge yourself in a new way. Sometimes just a small shift in mindset can make all the difference.
Make the most of the weekends
With weekdays filled with work, school or other important duties, the weekends can offer more flexibility for fitting in longer walks or other workouts. A good overall goal for a week is 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking. But you don’t need to get that in equal amounts. You can focus on shorter workouts during the week, with longer ones on the weekend when you may have more time.
Go to a gym class
You may prefer to walk or ride your bike outside, but a gym class can be a great and really fun way to get in a workout when it’s just too dark or stormy to go outside. A group class can provide extra motivation and give you a chance to try activities you might not normally choose. YMCAs and many city and county recreation departments offer affordable options.
Walk at lunch
One way to make the most of winter’s short days is to fit in a workout during lunch. Grab a quick bite and then go for a walk with a friend, or hop over to the gym for the noon boot camp class.
Sleep in your workout clothes
Mornings can come quickly in winter – or at least they can feel that way. So, doing what you can to save a little time can really help you get out the door for a workout before work or school. It can sound a bit strange, but sleeping in your exercise clothes – even just some of them – can take away one step in the morning and help you lace up and get out the door.
Plan for tomorrow’s workout today
One of the best ways to stay on track with your exercise routine is to make a plan. Figure out what your activity will be the next day – or next week – and then do what you can beforehand to help make it happen. If you want to walk before the kids go to school, make lunches and check homework the night before. If you want to meet friends for a yoga class after work, arrange carpools for the kids and get dinner in the fridge in advance.
Wear enough warm clothes – in layers
Wearing the correct clothes for the weather is one of the best ways to enjoy outdoor winter activities. It can take some experimentation to know what works best in what conditions, but once you have it down, you’re set. One tip: layers are always best so you can remove or add clothes as you warm up or cool down.
Exercise with friends
This is a good idea any time of year, but especially during winter. Setting a weekly time with friends to go on a walk or hit a gym class makes for a fun, social time – that also includes a great workout. And with friends counting on you to show up, you’re much less likely to skip out because of busy schedules or bad weather.
Go for a streak
Who doesn’t like the occasional challenge? When life knocks you off your regular activity schedule, one way to try to get back into the groove is to challenge yourself to exercise a certain number of days in a row. It can be five days, seven, 30. You can even see how long you can go without missing a day. The trick is just to do some amount of activity every day that gets you moving more than you normally would. When you’re back to a routine, you can drop the streak but keep up regular workouts.
Winter can be dark, cold, wet and icy. Staying safe during, or on the way to, your workout is very important. If you’re walking, running or doing other activities in the dark, pick as safe a place as possible, go with a friend, wear reflective clothes and use a flashlight. If safety is ever a question, change plans and pick a safer route, time of day or type of activity. Be flexible.
Though winter brings with it ready excuses to skip our regular workouts, these simple tips can help keep you on track. And you may even find fun, new activities that will have you striding into spring feeling fresher and fitter than ever.
Written by: Hank Dart, MS. Dart is a public health expert who works in prevention and control for the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine. He oversees the popular health risk assessment website, Your Disease Risk, and the 8IGHT WAYS cancer prevention series. He is co-author of the books Healthy Women, Healthy Lives and Eat Well & Keep Moving, and has previously worked for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health; and the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention. He received his bachelor's degree in Human Biology from Stanford University and his master of science degree from the Harvard School of Public Health.