During the long winter, most of us would rather stay inside under layers of warm clothes than head to the gym. But the fact remains: continuing physical activity during the winter months is critical to maintaining a healthy body.
Benefits: Beyond the obvious benefit of weight control, regular physical activity can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Exercise can raise levels of good cholesterol (HDL) while lowering levels of bad cholesterol (LDL). Exercise can also reduce blood pressure by as much as ten to fifteen points and help lower your risk of diabetes by lowering blood sugar and increasing your body’s sensitivity to insulin. Other benefits include delaying cognitive decline, fighting osteoporosis and decreasing your risk of stroke.
During these cold, dark months, the euphoric effects of exercise on the nervous system can combat anxiety and depression. Some studies have also suggested that regular exercise helps to prevent the common cold!
Goals: At least 30 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity five days per week or 20 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days per week will improve your cardiovascular health. This can be anything from walking, biking, climbing stairs, to playing touch football or gardening. We also recommend resistance training in at least eight different exercise sets with 10-15 repetitions each twice a week to build muscle mass, bone density, and improve chronic musculoskeletal problems.
Outdoors: Winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding usually take the spotlight during this season. While cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are less popular than their downhill cousins, they provide many health benefits since they work the major muscle groups of your upper and lower body, all with a lower risk of injury. Ice skating is a low-impact alternative that also provides the same cardiovascular benefits.
Indoors: There are many options for people who prefer to work out at home. Introspective exercises like yoga and tai chi are excellent alternatives if you need a silent retreat from an otherwise chaotic life. There is a growing body of evidence that these forms of “meditation in motion” are as effective, if not more effective, than traditional exercise in regulating the body’s response to stress, lowering blood pressure, and increasing strength.
If you prefer quick repetitions, a combination of short exercises can also meet your workout requirements while targeting major muscle groups (upper body, lower body, abdominals, back). Most do not require any equipment which also make them ideal to do in a hotel room while traveling. You can find examples of the following exercises on the American Council on Exercise web site:
- Lower body (hamstrings, quads, calves): step-ups, lunges, squats, One-leg Romanian deadlifts, Genie sits
- Upper body (biceps, triceps, deltoids, forearms): push-ups, hammer curls, reverse plank, shoulder/lateral flys
- Abdominals (rectus abdominis, obliques): plank, V-up and roll, Dolphin pose, bicycle crunch
- Back: Superman, Good Mornings, Bridge
If doing static poses, you should hold them for 10-30 seconds each. If doing dynamic exercises, aim for 10-15 repetitions and slowly build up.
Remember: Regardless of what specific exercises or activities you choose, what really matters is that you exercise long and hard enough. One tool to help gauge your level and to pace yourself is to measure your target heart rate (www.mayoclinic.com/health/target-heart-rate/SM00083). This is usually 50-85% of your maximal heart rate (approximately 220 minus your age). Starting at 50% and gradually building up is a safe and sustainable plan of action.
Stay fit! Spring will be here before you know it.