Physical Activity through Winter and Beyond
Winter already shortens the days and provides periods of inclement weather. Why should it also take a physical toll on your body? Winter exercise can look very similar to summer exercise, with a slight variation in outdoor activities. And contrary to popular belief, exercising during the winter can be enjoyable if you find the activity that suits you best. Refrain from making convenient excuses about the weather and allow yourself to enjoy the unique activities winter offers.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) discovered that, on average, people gain 0.8 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, with lack of physical activity reported as the primary reason for holiday weight gain (1). This finding is most alarming because holiday weight gain is generally the start of continued weight gain throughout the rest of the year. Small weight gains like these add up over time and can lead to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
According to research findings indicating that exercise can help prevent chronic diseases—as well as improve overall physiological health, self-confidence, alertness, and contentment—why should the winter be treated any different than the summer months in terms of exercise frequency (2,3)? Exercise is a year-round activity to be enjoyed by all, however studies show levels of physical activity peaked in July and August while energy expenditure decreased in winter (3). Winter does present different attributes and potential environmental barriers than the summer months provide. Daylight hours are fewer, temperatures may be extreme, and precipitation could be at the highest levels of the year, all of which can negatively affect the amount of time spent exercising outdoors.
It is recommended that, even during the winter months, fitting in 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week will provide health benefits (1). If it fits better into your daily routine, completing three or more 10-minute activity sessions daily will also provide the same health benefits.
Try these simple ways to incorporate physical activity into your everyday routine:
- Water aerobics or lap swimming
- Group fitness classes
- Exercise videos
- Weight training
- Climbing stairs
- Cross-country or downhill skiing
- Pole walking
- Snow shoeing
- Ice skating
- Playing ice hockey
And don’t let your childhood be forgotten! Join your children or grandchildren while they build a snowman or snow fort, have a snowball fight, or sled and then climb back up the hill. If you enjoy taking a stroll through the mall, a few extra laps around the mall while carrying shopping bags can serve as an indoor winter workout.
If you plan to exercise outdoors in the winter, there are some safety precautions to take as assurance that your workout will be enjoyable and safe. Planning ahead for outdoor exercise includes: dressing in layers, keeping your head, hands, and feet warm, staying hydrated, and wearing reflective gear. Whichever winter activity is most appealing to you, bundle up and enjoy the fun of being physically active!
(1) Bizik J. Winter weight gain: The gifts that keep on giving. Diabetes Forecast. 2003.
(2) Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter. November 2003.
(3) Tucker P, Gilliland J. The effect of season and weather on physical activity: A systematic review. Journal of the Royal Institute of Public Health. 2007.