Keep working on your health and wellness goals throughout the winter months, and you’ll be happier and healthier when spring finally comes.
It can be tough to stay active when winter rolls around. It’s cold, the ground gets wet and slippery, and it gets dark earlier — making many of us want to stay inside, get warm and curl up on the couch. But even when it’s cold, research shows it’s just as important to exercise and maintain an active lifestyle. Check out the benefits of staying active all winter and some tips to get you motivated.
Benefits of Staying Active
Staying active over the winter has many benefits — both mental and physical ones. Here are some to consider:
- Physical activity can help you sleep better.
- Physical activity can help you feel more energetic and less stressed and anxious.
- Physical activity can lower your risk for high blood pressure, weight gain, type 2 diabetes and many kinds of cancer.
- According to emerging research through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physical activity may help boost your immune function, which is critical during cold and flu season.
- Exercising outdoors gives your body a chance to soak up vitamin D, which can help you maintain strong bones and improve your mood.
Tips for Staying Active This Winter
Experts recommend adults should aim to be physically active for 30 minutes a day, five days a week or 150 minutes a week total. It’s up to you how to divide those minutes in a way that works best for you. Once you decide how you’re going to divide it up, it’s time to get started. Here are some tips:
- Monitor the weather and plan ahead. Take a good look at the week’s forecast and try to map out a plan. If you see that it’s going to rain or snow toward the end of the week, try to get outside at the beginning of the week and save your active chores and other indoor activities for later in the week.
- Find an online exercise program you enjoy. Nowadays, there are several free or low-cost online workout videos or apps you can use to stay active indoors. You can try things like yoga, stretching, kickboxing, strength training and dance. You can find videos ranging from 10 minutes to much longer and can search for videos that require only a little space or no equipment.
- Be physically active throughout the day. Housework like vacuuming and sweeping can get your heart rate up – so can dance parties, running laundry up and down the stairs and more. This active work counts toward your physical activity minutes for the week!
- Make it as easy as possible. If you’re going to work out in the morning, lay out your clothes, so they’re ready to go. Once the workout clothes are on, you’ve got a good chance that you’ll end up doing the work. Similarly, if you’re planning to work out after work, change into your clothes before you head home.
- Work time into your schedule. If it’s too dark when you get home from work or if you’re too tired, can you find time to take a brisk walk during lunch? Or maybe you can get up a half hour early for some yoga. Try taking one of your work calls during the afternoon while you head out for a walk. If you build time into your schedule, you’re more likely to do it than if you have no plan.
Easy Ways to Be Active This Winter
Sometimes when it’s cold outside, we just don’t have a lot of motivation, or our normal methods for exercise (like outdoor running or biking) may not be feasible. Here are some ideas when you’re feeling stuck:
- Go for a walk outside or at a mall.
- Go bowling with friends or family members.
- Sign up for a group class like dance or yoga in your community.
- Take the stairs whenever you can and park far away from the entrances to stores.
- Go for an indoor swim.
- Start working out at home.
- Rake leaves or shovel snow.
- Try cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or ice skating.
- Help others. Shovel snow or walk pets for people who can’t go outside in the cold.
- Channel your inner kid and have a dance party, play a game of tag or compete in an active family video game.
Tips for Staying Safe This Winter
- Wear a scarf or a mask to warm the air before it enters your lungs to help you breathe easier. When you breathe in cold air, it can restrict your airway and make you feel short of breath or tight in the chest.
- Watch your step to avoid a fall. When it’s icy, make sure you wear shoes or boots with good traction. If possible, wait until the ice thaws or there’s enough light to see where to avoid icy patches.
- Dress appropriately. Wear a lightweight base layer that wicks sweat away from your body and dries quickly. Add warmer layers on top that you can remove if you get too warm. Your top layer should be wind and water-resistant if possible.
- Protect your head, hands and feet. You can lose heat through your extremities and head, so protect them with a hat, warm socks and gloves.
- Stay hydrated even when you’re cold. It’s more difficult to realize how much to drink when you aren’t super hot, but your body still needs fluid before, during and after exercise.
- Don’t overdo it. Listen to your body, monitor how you feel and take breaks if it becomes too challenging.
- Know the warning signs of hypothermia, which can include lack of coordination, mental confusion, slurred speech, cold feet and hands, shivering and sleepiness.
- Check in with your health care team. For example, if you have heart disease, you’ll need to be careful when you’re exercising in the cold. The cold weather can cause your heart rate and blood pressure to increase and force your heart to work harder.
- MedlinePlus offers more details about the health benefits of exercising, including how it may impact your immunity.
- The National Institute on Aging has an article full of safety tips for older adults who are ready to exercise, including a section on how to stay safe throughout the winter.
- This CDC page offers a ton of resources for staying active. You can search for nearby hiking trails, walking groups or skating places, as well as learn how to stay active while working in your office or when you have arthritis. If you find yourself coming up with one excuse after another about why you can’t exercise, the CDC also offers a list of excuses and how to overcome them and get moving.
- Nutrition.gov offers a lot of resources related to physical activity, including articles on exercising on a budget, after a pregnancy, when you’re just getting started and more.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also offers tools Veterans can use to stay active. Veterans with a MyhealtheVet account can log their daily physical activities online to share with their health care team through an activity journal. You can also track your food intake this way. VA also offers Gerofit, an exercise program for older Veterans that uses a variety of strength and cardio exercises. Visit their site to learn about how to join, find a location near you or look at additional resources you can use.
Don’t let the winter blues get a hold of you this year. Keep working on your health and wellness goals throughout the winter months, and you’ll be happier and healthier when spring finally comes.