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Health & Fitness: Working Out in the Winter

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By Kim Duke, NETA & AAFA Certified Trainer

Does this sound like you? During the summer, you’re a workout fiend, running, hiking, biking and swimming.  You find you are in constant motion, keeping that body healthy and in shape.

Then, it happens: daylight-saving time ends, you find it hard to get out of bed and by nightfall, you’re more interested in curling up with a book than running or working out at all.

The winter months can be brutal for some people’s fitness routines, says Bradley Cardinal, PhD, an exercise physiologist at Oregon State University. He once prepared a case study of a man in his mid 30s who lives in the northern U.S. Each year, the man was active from July through November, but then found his activity level would drop off for the rest of the year. While Cardinal cautions against reading too much from the study of one person, he believes that most people’s activity levels fluctuate, largely because of environmental factors. “It’s a lot easier to get out and exercise when the weather is warm,” he says.

If you’re an outdoor exerciser who has slacked off in the past when the temperature dropped, you may not have been giving yourself enough time to acclimate. To acclimate, of course, you’ll have to keep working out through the cold — a bit of a Catch-22.

It will be easier to make yourself go outside, though, says Cotton, if you warm up inside first. “Take five to 10 minutes and do some low level aerobic exercise like jogging in place or doing jumping jacks,” he advises. “That way, when you step outside, you’ll already be warm.”

Dressing properly can also help. Wear layers so that you can peel them off as your body temperature increases.

Some people are dedicated gym-goers, and they shouldn’t be affected much by the weather. However, the lingering darkness in the morning and the early evenings can take away even the hardiest gym-lover’s motivation to hit the health club.

If that’s your problem, you may need a contingency plan. Cardinal himself has exercise equipment at home — a stair climber, stationary bike, and exercise videos that he rotates through — to use when it’s hard to get outdoors or to the gym. If you do exercise at home, though, do whatever you can to make it entertaining, says Cotton. You might, for instance, place a TV in front of a home treadmill so you don’t get too bored.

This is the time, too, to call on your friends. Even if you usually exercise alone, you may need someone to help keep you motivated. Many studies have shown that social support helps keep people active, says James F. Sallis, PhD, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University who studies exercise motivation.  Perhaps making a promise to each other to at least work out together twice a week will be the commitment that affects another person’s health, as well as your own.

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