Isn’t it ironic? During the season when we face the most temptation to overindulge our appetite, we are most likely to slow down and neglect our exercise program. Colder temperatures; rain and snow; fewer hours of daylight; and a busy holiday schedule are all factors that might push exercise to the bottom of our “to do” list.
But our need for exercise doesn’t take a winter break. Study after study demonstrates that the prime factor for aging well is physical activity…and the winter weight gain and slowdown that many of us experience can make that a challenge.
Weight gain isn’t the only consequence of neglecting our fitness program in the colder months. People with a sedentary winter lifestyle are more at risk for the following health problems:
- Seasonal depression
- Infectious diseases
- Sleep problems
- Injury when resuming exercise in the spring
But the good news is that you can remain fit by changing your routine for the season, and by taking a few simple health and safety precautions.
Continue Your Outdoor Activities
If walking, cycling, or other outdoor activities are part of your fitness routine, with a few modifications and a little planning you can safely continue during the cooler months. In all but the coldest days, keeping up a brisk pace will warm you up fast.
To safely continue your outdoor regimen for winter, also remember:
- For comfort and to avoid hypothermia (a dangerous drop in body temperature), dress right for cold temperatures and wind.
- Wearing several layers of water- and wind-resistant clothing is the best way to hold in body heat, and you can shed or add layers as you warm up and cool down. Don’t forget a hat or hood, gloves and scarf.
- If you wear rain gear, choose a fabric that “breathes.” Sporting goods and outdoor wear stores feature a variety of high-tech materials that repel water and block the wind, but let perspiration evaporate.
- Your shoes should be waterproof and well-fitted with good traction and ankle support. Keep your feet dry and warm with the right socks.
- Pay attention to the weather and be aware of the wind chill factor. On windy days, your body temperature can lower much faster. Be aware of the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite.
- If you walk at dusk or after dark, make yourself more visible by wearing reflective clothing. Carry a flashlight. Be extra cautious when crossing streets. Remember, it is harder for drivers to see you than it is for you to see them!
- Don’t neglect your warm-up. A longer stretching phase and slower movements at the beginning of your workout help prevent muscle or tendon injury.
- Use caution and good sense to avoid any situation or condition that might trip you up, such as ice, slippery leaves, and poorly lit walkways.
- Dry, cold winter air can lead to dehydration, so drink plenty of water.
Try Winter Sports for Variety
Winter snow might also offer the opportunity for adding extra activities to your fitness routine. If your healthcare provider gives you the thumbs up, try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Keep in mind the precautions above, and in addition:
- If you’re a first-timer or inexperienced, be sure to get professional training first.
- Know the weather conditions before you head out in the snow and keep windchill in mind.
- Bring a buddy if you can.
- Bring snacks and water.
- Carry your cell phone.
- Use appropriate gear, in good condition.
- Remember to dress warmly in layers to avoid the danger of hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold injuries.
- Sunblock and sunglasses are as important during snow sports as in the summer.
What About Indoor Opportunities?
When the weather is just too miserable or it’s too dark, alternate with indoor fitness activities. Here are some indoor alternatives you can try:
- Join a gym.
- Check out local senior fitness classes.
- Take up mall walking, or go to an indoor track.
- Take a swimming or water aerobics class at an indoor pool.
- Invest in a treadmill or other home exercise equipment.
- Work out at home with an exercise or tai chi video.
Winter doesn’t mean hibernation. You still should get 30 minutes or more of physical exercise most days of the week. But with a little planning and preparation, you can continue to be active even in the winter months.
Remember, before starting any new or expanded exercise program, check with your doctor or other health care provider. Ask for a “physical activity RX” that’s right for you.