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Staying Active in the Winter Months

Be active and safe even in cold weather

When temperatures plummet, it's tempting to position yourself firmly on the couch until the crocuses emerge in early spring. But you shouldn't let cold weather get in the way of your exercise routine, and you don't have to.

"Everyone should remember to make time for their health through regular physical activity," says James A. Young, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Rush. "Because, if you don't, you'll have to make time for illness."

So rather than using winter weather as an excuse, Young says, "You can take it as an opportunity to be more creative about how you approach getting your daily dose of physical activity."

Here are some suggestions for staying active throughout the chilly winter months.

Getting over the hurdles

Here are some ideas to help continue working on your fitness goals indoors:

  • Walk down the hall in your apartment building, and use stairs instead of the elevator (provided the areas are safe and uncluttered).
  • Go to a gym, fitness club or rec center. If you don't like traditional workouts, most fitness facilities offer a variety of classes and activities, from rock climbing to Zumba to water aerobics, so you're bound to find something you enjoy.
  • Go to an enclosed public space like a shopping mall and do a mall walk.
  • Create a playlist of your favorite dance songs and dance around your home. A 150-pound person can burn 95 calories dancing for just 15 minutes — that's four to five songs.

Start slowly and build on your success 

Young suggests increasing the amount of physical activity in small increments.

"You can increase the time you spend by as little as 15 or 30 seconds each day. That small amount can add up to an extra seven and half minutes per month. And those extra minutes can mean a world of difference for your health." 

Of course, before you start a regular exercise routine, you should consult with your doctor to see if there's any reason why you should not be physically active. 

Being safe and careful 

Winter can limited you to indoor activities, because of wet, slippery or icy surfaces. "Safety is a serious concern in the winter," Young says. "You may be getting needed exercise, but if you fall and injure yourself, you quickly lose any benefit from the exercise." 

Rather than using winter weather as an excuse ... take it as an opportunity to be more creative about how you approach getting your daily dose of physical activity.

There are safety concerns indoors, too. Young recommends you stop exercise and contact your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms: 

  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations (irregular heart beat)
  • Sudden unexplained weakness one side of the body

"Don't wait for these symptoms to pass," says Young. "You need to stop your activity and contact your doctor or, depending on how severe the symptoms are, call 911 as soon as possible." 

Another safety issue may be that you need to use a cane or a walker when you're physically active. "Make sure all of your equipment is well maintained," Young says. "Check the rubber stoppers on the ends of canes and walkers and make sure walkers are sturdy and in good working order."

Worth the effort 

Although it might be a little harder to push yourself during the winter, working out is likely to bring dividends in the spring. 

"If you keep up your physical activity in the winter, you're more likely to have the health and mobility to really enjoy the warmer weather when it returns." 

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