Well, it’s officially December. As the temperatures start to drop and we get closer to December 21st, days shorten, daylight gets scarce and so does our motivation to exercise. While you may have been on a roll with your exercise routine during the warmer spring, summer and fall months, many exercise routines get pushed to the side once the busy-ness of the holidays and the cold short days of winter slip in.
Instead of hibernating this winter season, challenge yourself to stay active and continue to get outside. Why you might ask? There are many reasons:
- Because being outside is good for your mental health especially during the winter when seasonal affective disorder affects people most.
- Summer bodies are made in the winter. Sure, it’s easy to hide under cozy sweaters and coats but at some point that sweater’s coming off.
- Exercising outside burns more calories: wind + elevation change + rougher terrain = more work in the same amount of time.
- To maintain your fall fitness habit so when the days get longer and balmy you don’t have to start a new routine from scratch.
- Exercise keeps your immune system strong to fight off the incubating germies collecting and propagating during the winter.
- As the holiday goody intake ramps up, exercise helps keep the weight gain down.
- You will have one less resolution to torture yourself with.
- Because after going for a walk/run/hike in the rain/snow/cold temps when no one else has dared to step out, you return home feeling like a rugged rebel able to handle anything. Talk about empowering.
If you find yourself struggling, ponder some of these options for continuing your workout routine even when your time to get outside and move seems to shrink:
Keep it simple – not every workout has to be a marathon session. Maybe by the time you get home from work there are only 15 minutes of daylight left. Don’t let the short window be an excuse to bail on your routine. Focus on making the most of those 15 minutes. A little bit of something will keep your mind in the fitness game.
Another simple option is to make your chores your exercise routine. Do you need to make a choice? Daylight is waning so should you go for a run or finish the yard work? Go ahead and rake those leaves but infuse it with intensity. Never stop moving and take lots of steps. Maybe chase a child or a dog through the growing leaf piles. Bonus points if you can catch a squirrel.
The same applies to shoveling snow – it is quite a workout! Warning: be careful not to hurt yourself. Approach it like a weigh lifting session. Warm up your muscles first and check out this 2-minute video on proper shoveling techniques.
Lift with your legs people!
How flexible are you? If it is an option, consider flexing your work schedule to start a little later or end a little earlier so you can get outside for a bike, hike, walk or run.
If flexing your work schedule is not an option, make the most of the daylight you do have. Skip lunch at your desk, slid into a coat, grab a sandwich and go outside for a walk. Make a lap around the coffee house block before you pick up your brew. Be creative.
If your schedule means you have morning light before work and none left by the time your workday is over, it might be time to switch up your schedule and get up early to workout before you leave the house.
If you do – set yourself up for success the night before by laying out your workout clothes, putting the coffee maker on a timer and snooze proofing your alarm (make it loud, put it on the opposite side of the room, whatever it takes). It’s dark out anyway so skip the late show, go to bed earlier and get a good night’s sleep to make getting up a little easier.
Another option? Check out the local track. Sometimes local high school or college tracks light their facilities in the evening. Take advantage of the safe conditions and the ability to see. You may not get as much daylight exposure but the time outside is well spent.
There is safety in numbers. Consider starting a sunrise or sundown walking group. Wear reflective clothing, carry multiple flashlights and stick together as you trek through the neighborhood.
Always walk or run against traffic, not with it. Facing motorists allows you to make a visual judgment about protecting yourself on the road. (Read: do I need to jump in the bushes?) Plus, if someone is going to try to hit you, at least have a chance at identifying the driver and rattling off the license plate afterwards. For more tips on navigating the roads safely after dark, check out this post by Runner’s World.
Speaking of safety: if you are going to head out before sunrise or after sundown, invest in dusk to darkness gear to be safe on that run/walk/bike ride. Wearing multiple points of light makes you a recognizable human form moving through space and time so think illuminated vest, a headlamp, handheld flashlights and shoe or ankle lights. Light colored or highly visible colors and reflective clothing make you easier to see and safer when the sun is down. Get lit, don’t get hit, to quote the Nathan website.
These items also make great holiday gifts. Hint. Hint.
Keep your activities seasonally appropriate. If there is snow and ice on the road, it might not be a good day for a bike ride but bundling up and cross-country skiing may be a great option.
Along those lines, consider taking up a new winter outdoor activity like skiing, ice-skating, cross-country skiing or the fast growing sport of snowshoeing. The same rules apply here: if you will be out past dark, wear reflective clothing, carry lights and let someone know where you are going and when you should return.
When you dress to head outside for cold weather activity, stick with warm and dry because cold and wet will be awful. Wear layers you can peel off if you become overheated (yes, Virginia, it’s possible, even in the cold) and skip anything cotton since it absorbs moisture keeping you cold and uncomfortable.
Think moisture wicking fibers like merino wool or polyester blends next to your skin, accessories like hats, gloves and warm socks for your extremities, and water proof or water resistant outer layers in case of precipitation to allow you to stay outside as long as you wish.
To establish any routine, consistency is the key to success. To make it a habit, you need to do it on a regular basis. If this past fall season had you motivated to get outside and move, don’t let the shorter and colder days deter you from continuing to get out there and go. Use a little creativity to get in bursts of activity when you can. Your body and your mind will be grateful.