Cold temperatures and late-afternoon darkness can easily lead us to think bears have the right idea in winter: find a cozy spot and sleep until spring. It’s actually much healthier — for your mind and body — to stay active, especially during the cold months when it’s even harder to find the motivation. Physical activity can help you sleep better, reduce anxiety, improve your balance, lower your risk of type 2 diabetes and many kinds of cancer, strengthen bones and muscles, lower blood pressure, and keep your mind sharp. Emerging research also suggests that physical activity may help boost your immune function.
Here are some ideas for getting your body moving during the coldest and darkest of winter days; even a little bit of exercise can have a big impact on your total wellness.
Taking a walk outside — even when it’s cold — can have huge benefits for your health. In addition to burning calories and strengthening your muscles, exercising outdoors helps you absorb some precious sunlight, which can improve your mood and help your body produce Vitamin D.
If you’re not the type who enjoys walking for the sake of walking, other outdoor winter activities might be more appealing and get you the same results. Cross-country skiing is a fantastic whole-body workout, and can be done anywhere there’s snow. Raking leaves, shoveling snow, and even sledding count towards being active.
Key things to remember:
- Check the weather well in advance, so you can avoid days with inclement weather.
- Be sure to dress in layers, so that items can be removed easily as you become warmer.
- Have a goal in mind. Setting out with a purpose — like going a certain distance or seeing a special landmark — can give you a better sense of accomplishment and prevent you from giving up too soon.
If the weather is too dicey, one of these many indoor options can help you stay active:
- Chores like vacuuming, sweeping, and tidying up count for something, as does going up and down the stairs a few times.
- Countless free online workouts in just about every discipline and skill level you can imagine are another option. Yoga, pilates, zumba, dance, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), and strength training can all be done in the comfort of your own living room, with minimal special equipment. (Now you really can dance like no one’s watching!) Be sure to use your search terms wisely: for example, there are tons of arthritis-friendly workouts, as long as you indicate that’s what you’re looking for. (For example, the Mayo Clinic offers Tai Chi for older adults, and ‘Fab 5’ Exercises to get you Moving. Or Dartmouth Health offers Seated Exercises for Older Adults that help with strength and balance.)
- Indoor activities like bowling, mall walking (don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it), and roller skating are also great for getting the heart rate up.
Sometimes the key to motivation is being held accountable by someone else. One solution, then, is to make your physical activity a social event.
- If exercising in person with groups makes you uneasy, try a fitness app that allows you to have accountability partners, like Strava or Apple Fitness+. These apps track your exercise, and you have the option of posting it for kudos from other people you’ve connected with.
- Join a gym, and enroll in a fitness class. Then you can make friends and burn calories.
- Local community centers often have classes like aerobics, badminton, basketball, or yoga and might be cheaper than the gym. If your local center has a pool, swimming is an excellent way to stay in shape, or water aerobics are awesome for people who need a more low-impact workout.