Staying Active in the Winter

You don't have to let cold weather get in the way of your exercise routine

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.

"Maintaining an exercise routine over the winter months can help you have a healthier, happier winter," says Sean Kennedy, MD, a RUSH family medicine physician who sees patients in Aurora. "It can help you prevent winter weight gain, boost your mood and leave you feeling energized."

Get energized and fight illness

Exercise any time of the year is good for the circulatory system, he says. It provides oxygen and nutrients to your cells, giving you more energy. Endorphins that are released when you exercise help you feel good and fight those winter blues. 

Exercise can also strengthen the immune system, helping you stave off flu and other winter illnesses. 

"And the act of exercise warms your body -- another plus during the cold winter months!" Kennedy adds.

Getting over the hurdles

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.

To work 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.

"Winter workouts keep you fit and boost your mood by releasing feel-good endorphins,” says Amber Paniagua, personal trainer at RUSH Copley Healthplex. "Plus, the cold weather helps burn more calories, making it a smart way to stay healthy." 

She suggests using the winter to take a class to improve your skills in your favorite sport. You can take tennis, pickleball or swim lessons so you're on top of your game when the warmer weather arrives. The winter is also a great time for strength training and sports conditioning. 

Start slowly and build on your success 

If you haven't been exercising regularly, increase your amount of physical activity in small increments, Paniagua advises. Even increasing your exercise by a few minutes a day can make a difference in 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 limit you to indoor activities, because of wet, slippery or icy surfaces. If you fall and injure yourself, you quickly lose any benefit from the exercise. 

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

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

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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