When you think of winter time, what comes to mind?
Hot cocoa and Christmas movies by the fireplace? Skiing down a mountain of fluffy white snow? Fun-filled gatherings with friends and family?
It’s highly unlikely that the first thing that pops into mind is lying in bed with the flu, feeling sluggish from missed workouts, the five extra pounds you put on, or winter blues that kill your motivation.
Unfortunately, these are realities of the holiday season, but they are surely not the memories you want to keep. So what can you do about it?
The scenarios above are four of the most common barriers to staying healthy in the winter, and below are practical ways you can prevent them from ruining your holidays.
Do you feel a bit depressed during the holidays? The shift in seasons may be to blame. Starting in autumn or winter, many people experience seasonal Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which often occurs due to stress and lack of sunlight.
How to Prevent it
According to Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, “One of the most effective ways to reduce stress is meditation…such as mindfulness and walking meditation. Yoga can also be highly beneficial for reducing stress and keeping you limber in the months when one tends to become a couch potato”.1
You can take any other workout outside as well. Even better, grab a workout buddy for the social benefit that also lifts our spirits, and go for a run, do a bodyweight circuit workout, or play a game of basketball.
What if you live where it’s snowy or super cold? Bundle up in layers and go sledding (all of that hill-climbing is a leg workout!), build a snowman, or do indoor yoga in a well-lit area.
Speaking of frigid conditions and workouts….many of us tend to slack on fitness routines in the winter, wanting to stay home where it’s warm and cozy. However, this laziness leads to problem #3 (described below). Working out both keeps you warm and helps you feel better in general, so don’t fall off the wagon just because it’s hard to go outside!
How to Workout in the Winter
You have two options 1) Get out there and do it anyway. 2) Workout inside.
The good news is that cold weather doesn’t mean you can’t exercise outside. Just layer properly and use caution (don’t go out in the dark, go inside if you start feeling too cold, watch out for icy areas). Do a warm-up indoors before you start to get the blood flowing and your body temperature up slightly. Then head out for activities like a run or even circuit training in your yard (such as lunges, squats, jumping jacks).
Even better, have an adventure and enjoy that snow! Go skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing. All of these are great, calorie-torching workouts that tone muscles you didn’t know you had while you’re having a blast!
Snowshoeing is a safe, easy, and fun option whether you’re at home or on vacation in the mountains. It’s simple to learn and can be done anywhere you can walk – neighborhood, hiking trails, etc. Use trekking poles for added stability and an upper body workout.
Ok, we get it. As fun as those outdoor activities can be, some people just hate the snow, don’t live near snow, or can’t be in extreme cold for health reasons. Not a problem.
Either way, it’s good to be prepared for those days when roads are closed to the gym or you can only muster up 15 minutes of activity. Even a quick workout will warm you up and maybe help you save on that heating bill!
You can easily exercise indoors easily with very little or no equipment. Try watching a free workout video on YouTube, or use dumbbells and resistance bands to mimic your strength training workouts at the gym.
For example, instead of bench chest presses, do them from the floor or try weighted push-ups. Do lateral raises or shoulder presses on any chair rather than a shoulder press machine. Use resistance bands for biceps, triceps and back, and a kettlebell for squats and deadlifts.
Trying to lose weight? Do a circuit workout for 20-30 minutes (such as squats, step-ups on stairs or a chair, push-ups, burpees, skaters, planks and crunches). You can do these using only your bodyweight if you don’t have weighs at home.
Need more ideas for what to use for home workouts? Check out our 10 Essential Items for Home Gyms.
Nothing stops your workouts – and life – more than sickness. Cold weather reduces blood flow, which means there are less white blood cells available to fight off illness. Chilly air can also a trigger asthma attacks. Colds and flus seem to spread like wildfire during the winter months, especially when you’re cooped up inside with less fresh air and circulation.
How to Prevent it
One big reason to stick with your workouts, as mentioned above, is that exercise boosts blood flow and circulation to keep your immune system strong.
If you’re stuck indoors, try doing some yoga or Pilates, which emphasize breathing in through the nose rather than the mouth. According to CoolAntarctica.com, breathing through the nose helps warm up the air, which can help prevent issues like asthma attacks.
Yoga and Pilates are also great ways to get in exercise without overly taxing your body. Whereas, if you frequently train too hard, it can reduce your immune function.
Due to all the previous “winter worries”, weight gain can be an inevitable next step if you’re not careful.
Another problem with the lack of sunlight in this chilly season is that it decreases serotonin activity in the brain. Eating carbohydrates increases serotonin levels, so it’s normal for your body to crave carb-heavy meals and sweets which can boost your mood. Unfortunately, those comfort foods tend to be things like macaroni and cheese, cookies, stuffing, hot cocoa, chili and cornbread. In other words, foods that are high in calories, sugar, and saturated fat.
Plus, the more you eat of these kinds of unhealthy foods, the more your body craves them, starting a vicious cycle that is likely to cause weight gain.
How to Prevent it
One simple fix is to consume more healthy fats and less carbohydrates. Carbohydrates cause your energy to take a nose dive. Then your body craves more to get your energy back up. Instead, replace many of the carbs in your diet (rice, cereal, bread, potatoes, sweets) with fats like avocado, meat, coconut oil, nuts, nut butter, and olive oil. These will also provide energy and keep you feeling full without the energy spikes and crashes.
Try to eat 3-5 meals each day, starting shortly after you wake up. This way you keep a steady source of fuel in your body and prevent your appetite from getting out of control. If you eat enough healthy foods, it will help prevent cravings for junk, and it will be much easier to control your weight. Plus, the less sugar you eat, the less you’ll crave it.
If this switch is tough, start with some simple swaps. Oatmeal instead of cereal (without sugar), sweet potatoes (no marshmallows!) instead of pasta or bread, and berries with a drizzle (not several ounces) of dark chocolate instead of cookies. You can also save some of these types of foods until the evening so when your energy levels start to drop, you can head to bed early for extra sleep that will also help keep you healthy!
Lastly, follow the tips in issue #1 and #2 - make sure to get outside for some sunlight, and don’t quit your workouts!
Let’s summarize what we’ve learned so far in 4 easy steps to stay healthy this Winter: