The Darkside of Exercise

Oct 28, 2022
Looking for the motivation to exercise in winter?

Falling leaves and temperatures can mean three things: everything will taste and smell like pumpkins for the next two months, radio stations will soon be playing holiday music, and that after-work exercise class or walking date might be in danger of becoming a casualty of the end to Daylight Saving Time. If getting motivated to exercise in the cold and dark months of winter is a challenge, you are not alone. 

Whether it’s crawling out of a warm bed to bundle up for a run or turning the car into the gym parking lot after work instead of heading home for a hot meal, many people find it difficult to stick to a routine that was forged in warmer months. After all, our body's circadian clock responds to light as a signal to be awake, and dark as a signal to fall asleep! It just makes sense that we would crave the warmth and comfort of home when the sun goes down.

Keeping up an exercise program in winter months is important, though. In fact, in some ways, winter can offer benefits you don't get in summer. According to Dr. Adam Tenforde, an assistant professor of sports medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, cold weather may actually improve endurance because your heart doesn't have to work as hard, you sweat less, and you expend less energy, all of which means you can exercise more efficiently.

Moreover, other studies also have shown that exercising in cold weather can transform white fat, more specifically belly and thigh fat, into calorie-burning brown fat. How’s that for motivation?

If you need a little more of a nudge, try some of these tips for staying active in the colder months of the year.

Dress for the Weather

It’s been said that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Dress appropriately so you are comfortable, and if you are exercising in wintery weather, safe from hypothermia or frostbite. Nothing will make a workout more miserable than being too hot or too cold. Whereas, in the right gear, a winter hike or bike ride can feel like a spring day. Remember, if you are exercising outdoors in the dark, be sure that your clothing and shoes have reflective elements to keep you visible to others and safe from traffic. You may also choose bright colors for an extra mood and energy boost! 

Freshen Up Your Routine

Variety is a key to fitness success, so why not change up your music playlist, take a new class, change your running or walking route, or set a short-term goal just for the winter months? This cooler and darker time of year may be the perfect time to finally learn how to do a proper pull-up, take that dance class you’ve been curious about, or tackle a virtual long-distance hike. There are many ways to get creative to keep your workouts on target. For example, The Conqueror app lets you imagine you are completing the 500-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, hiking virtually through France and Spain, and even earning a finisher’s medal. That’s cool, not cold. You may also really enjoy catching up with a friend or are obsessed with a new podcast. Perhaps you can intertwine your social-entertainment time with your walk workout, or you could take the guesswork out of your workout and try this customizable winter workout. The possibilities are limitless—you just have to think outside of the box!

Buddy Up

The power of partnership, in addition to the extra accountability of exercising with a friend, doubles when you’re motivating each other through a next-level challenge like exercising through the cold months. Knowing that someone is expecting you, and that you are the support for them as well, can get you to lace up those shoes and hit the pavement just a little easier than faring it solo. Getting started is the hardest part; once you are out and connecting with a friend, you’ll wonder why you considered staying inside.

Prep a Warm Reward

A stretch in the sauna, a dip in the hot tub, or a snuggle under a warm blanket is more enjoyable when you’ve worked up an appetite. Speaking of appetite, did you know that warm foods make the digestive system run smoother, which in turns makes absorbing nutrients that your body needs for those workouts even easier? Now, that is a true reward! So sit back and enjoy that steaming cup of tea or hot bowl of soup.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Even elite athletes get the winter blues sometimes. But they have a secret weapon: visualization. Harness the mental power of visualization by creating a vision board of the outcomes you want to enjoy as a result of your hard work in the winter. Super-boost your visual reminders by following positive and energizing social media accounts or choosing a seasonal mantra to remind yourself of the immediate and future rewards of honoring your body with movement. Some suggestions to start with are, “I do not need to feel perfect to have a great workout today,” “I always feel great when I am active,” or “My mind is my strongest muscle.”

Just because it is darker outside doesn’t have to mean the light dims on your workout. Brighten things up with new gear, goals, connections, rewards, and reminders, and you’ll have a head start on spring.

For times when it isn’t that easy, Wellview is here. Click HERE to learn more about the Wellview services available to you. Our certified Personal Trainers and Health Advisers can help you set goals to keep you fitness goals going!

– Heather Fuselier, NBC-HWC, CPT, CRC

Health Adviser, Personal Trainer| Email Heather

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