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How to Stay Physically Active in Winter

Natalie
Stein
December 5, 2023
How to Stay Physically Active in Winter
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In this article:

  • It’s important to stay active during winter months, but many people lose motivation in winter or think they can’t exercise outdoors in cold weather.
  • It’s usually okay to work out outdoors, but there are some situations where it’s best to stay indoors.
  • Nature walks, sledding, and cross-country or downhill skiing can be good activities for winter time.
  • Dressing properly, exercising when it’s warmer out, checking the weather forecast, and paying attention to your body’s signals can help you stay safe if you exercise outside.
  • Indoor activities can include walking at malls and working out at a gym.
  • You can make this winter the most active one yet, and your Lark coach can help.

Exercising during the winter can be a challenge, but you can take steps to keep up your activity levels. Here are some tips to help you stay motivated and active, while staying safe, in cold weather.

Physical Activity Goals and Winter Challenges

The typical goal is to get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity and to complete muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice weekly.Lack of time and being too tired are common challenges that can get in the way of getting enough exercise. Motivation can decrease in winter time, especially if weather is gray, cold, wet, or you are experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

Wonders of Winter

Winter can actually be a great time to exercise. Nature walks can lead you to see extraordinary sights, such as clear blue skies, bright white snow, and impressive cloud formations. In many parts of the country, you can cross-country or downhill ski, ice skate, or sled in the snow. If summer heat is too intense for you, cold winter weather provides a welcome break.

Risks

There can be risks when working out in cold weather. Here are some examples.

  • Frostbite
  • Heart strain
  • Muscle strain
  • Slipping on icy roads or sidewalks
  • Hypothermia

These risks may be higher among older adults. If you’re an older adult or you have health conditions, check with your healthcare provider about what may be safe for you.

Safe Conditions for Outdoor Winter Workouts

It’s important to make sure conditions are safe if you’re planning to go outside to exercise. Here are some things to check.

  • Is the temperature or wind chill factor over zero degrees Fahrenheit?
  • If you’re walking or jogging, is there a cleared path or sidewalk, or are your potential routes covered with snow making you go into the street?
  • What is the weather forecast? Will there be extreme weather such as heavy rain, ice, snow, or strong wind?

It’s best to stay in if it’s below zero degrees, there’s ice where you’re planning to work out, you cannot stay out of traffic due to snow, or extreme weather is coming.

More Safety Tips for Cold Weather Workouts

You can further protect yourself by dressing properly. It’s best to dress in layers so you can remove a layer of clothing if you’re warm, and put it back on if you get cold. Cover as much of your skin as possible if it’s cold out to prevent exposure to extreme cold and the risk of frostbite. Gloves and earmuffs may be necessary.

Use proper equipment and stay in designated areas if you’re snowboarding, skiing, or doing anything else requiring equipment. You may need special shoes or accessories for traction in snow or slippery areas.

You can lower risk for incidents if you take a conservative approach when exercising in cold weather. Here are some tips.

  • Start very slowly, and make your warm-up longer than usual to reduce the risk of pulled muscles and heart strain.
  • Sometimes it’s hard to remember to rehydrate in winter, but it’s a good idea to drink before you feel thirsty.
  • Start in a direction that’s into the wind so that when you’re coming back, the wind is helping you get home.
  • Consider doing smaller loops instead of an out-and-back route. For example, if you want to go for three miles, consider doing 6 half-mile loops instead of 1.5 miles in one direction and 1.5 miles back.

Indoor Options

If the great outdoors isn’t an option for a day or the whole season, there are plenty of indoor choices for staying active all winter.

  • Go to a nearby mall to walk. Some malls have designated walking hours before stores open
  • Find an indoor track, such as on a college or high school campus
  • Go to a gym
  • Visit a recreation center at a local park

If you can’t get out at all, you can work out at home. Try a workout DVD or online video. Many videos are available for free, or you can pay for subscriptions; often, health insurance companies cover the cost of subscriptions. Any stairs in your house or apartment complex can be used for working out.

Creativity is your friend. Consider mixing up your workout with all kinds of fun exercise. For example, you could dance to a full song, then do a set of weights, then go up and down a flight of stairs, and repeat.

Check for Your Body’s Warning Signs

If you go outdoors, be sure to monitor your body for signs of hypothermia or excessive exposure to the cold. Here are some warning signs.

  • Shivering
  • Feeling cold or having numb areas of fingers, toes, ears, or other parts of your body
  • Being tired or confused
  • Being uncoordinated

Go inside immediately if you have any of these signs, and call 911 or a healthcare provider if they are severe or don’t improve quickly.

How Lark Can Help

Physical activity is important year-round for physical and mental health, not to mention weight control, so it’s important to keep it up all winter. Lark can help you stay motivated and accountable as you log your physical activity, check your progress, and get reminders. Your Lark coach is available for personalized 24/7 to support nutrition, physical activity, and healthy lifestyle choices. See how small changes can turn into healthy habits for long-term success when you use Lark.


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