Even the most dedicated exercise enthusiast can have a hard time in the winter.
Cold days and long nights make it hard to get out of bed, let alone get the body moving, but there are simple ways to get motivated when the weather outside is frightful.
The season can indeed be very disruptive to people’s exercise routines, said Jack Raglin, an exercise psychologist and professor at Indiana University School of Public Health.
“You can look at large-scale studies and you see the sort of wave effect where physical activity levels start to decrease as the temperature goes down. Light is also a factor,” he added. “If people live in an area where they come home and it’s already dark, that can be a physical barrier to exercise and a de-motivation.”
The goal is to remove as many obstacles as possible and make small changes that can make staying active easier until spring returns. At this time of year, exercise can also help to cope with seasonal depression.
Here are 11 tips on how to motivate yourself to stay active in the winter:
- Seek out an exercise partner or group: When exercising alone, there is only one person you have to convince to skip a session. But by exercising with a partner or group, there’s some social pressure. Exercise partners can also provide social support, camaraderie and distraction from bad weather. There’s the additional benefit of making friends and hanging out with like-minded people. Even if you’re exercising at home, consider joining a live class on Zoom – which are great winter workout options that don’t require you to brave the cold.
- Enlist the thermostat in your cause: If the schedule calls for early workouts, program the thermostat in the morning to ensure a cozy atmosphere for waking up and place workout clothes near a heater so they’re nice and warm.
- Make it a goal just to get to the gym: Just focus on getting dressed and showing up at the gym or in your living room in front of your laptop, nothing else. Then, it’s okay to do an abbreviated workout or leave after a few minutes. “Once you’re there, the problem is solved. You’re kind of committed to it,” Raglin said. “Once you’ve changed into your gear, once you’ve made the initial step, the rest of it is a lot easier.”
- Exercise during your lunch break: Many people get frustrated when it’s dark in the morning and dark when they come home from work. The solution is to work out in the middle of the day, during the peak light hours. If the weather is tolerable, take a long, brisk walk during your lunch hour – this provides the added benefit of fresh air and a bit of nature.
- Focus on mental health benefits: Many people who start exercising get frustrated when they don’t lose weight or feel fit right away. But those benefits take a while to show up, Raglin noted. The mental health benefits, on the other hand, happen almost immediately. People feel better, less stressed and more relaxed, which may be especially important during the hectic holiday season and a time when many suffer from seasonal affective disorder.
- Plan ahead and anticipate: For outdoor workouts, watch the weather forecast and know what you’ll be up against the next day, whether snow or a cold blast, Raglin advised. Plan the appropriate clothing by stocking up on some workout clothes for winter and have everything ready for wake up time: gear, gym bag and snack.
- Put on exercise clothes when coming home from work: This simple goal puts people on the right path without much effort, said Brandon Alderman, an exercise psychologist and associate professor in the department of kinesiology and health at Rutgers University. “The idea behind doing that is you’ve met your goal and it’s probably difficult to take those exercise clothes off without actually doing some form of exercise,” he said.
- Sleep in exercise clothes: This is more intense variation of the goal above. The advantage is being ready to go right out of bed in clothes that are warm and already in place. On the other hand, the ritual of getting into exercise clothes can be energizing, Raglin said. “Once you start gearing up, you’re getting your head in the game,” he said. “It’s like a pre-game ritual. It’s almost like my heart starts beating faster once I begin to do that.”
- Swim in a warm pool: If exercising in the cold just isn’t something you’re willing to do, indoor swimming can be a great cardio option. Swimming is one of the best sports for a long and healthy life. A warm indoor pool can be the perfect place for a workout when the weather outside doesn’t cooperate.
- Optimize the morning alarm: Choose a song that will get you out of bed and get the heart beating faster. That’s when the race begins, so don’t hit the snooze button, Raglin cautioned. “If you’re giving yourself a couple of options to snooze, you’re done a lot of the time.” He notes, especially when your options are work out in the cold or stay warm and cozy in bed.
- Reconsider starting an outdoor exercise program as a New Year’s resolution: “winter is really a bad time to do it,” Raglin said. “But unfortunately, a lot of people start January 1. It’s just a penalty on top of penalty. People have been overindulging, they feel guilty, they feel like they have to do it and then they’re starting at a time when the environment is kind of conspiring against them.” It’s better to start with baby steps and start somewhere warm.