Winter workouts to keep you inspired
During the winter, it’s all too easy to avoid exercising – especially if you spend most of your days at work or in school. When you do have the time, it’s cold and dark outside – hardly inviting for an outdoor walk or run.
“Like bears, we tend to slow down during the winter. But unlike bears, we tend to gain weight and not lose it,” says David Davis, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Colorado. “However, I am a big believer in regular activity, especially during the winter, when exercise becomes much more important for alleviating stress, lifting our moods – and maintaining a healthy weight.”
When people get insufficient exercise or daylight exposure, their mood decreases. In some extreme cases, they may be affected by seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. People with this condition may sleep too much, have little energy, and crave sweets and starchy foods.
Benefits of exercise
“Regular exercise helps keep your mood up by tapping into your natural endorphins,” Dr. Davis explains. Endorphins are a type of brain chemical that helps create a sense of well-being, control the appetite, and enhance the immune system.
Exercise helps people sleep better. When people get a restful seven or eight hours of sleep, they are better able to manage their moods, eat healthier, and cope with the challenges of daily life. It also helps keep weight in check by burning calories and decreasing appetites. Without sufficient exercise during the winter, people are more likely to greet the spring with an extra 10 pounds or more.
Creative ways to exercise
To make sure you get the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise, it’s important to find activities you enjoy. “It’s important to keep in mind that any activity is beneficial,” says Andrea Groth, MS, prevention specialist with Kaiser Permanente Colorado. “It doesn’t always have to entail a special trip to the gym or the ski slopes.”
To find creative ways to become more active, consider the following tips:
Be a mall walker. “It helps if you can squeeze activities into your daily routine,” Groth says. “If you are at the mall, you can walk a few laps before or after shopping. It also helps to park in a distant parking spot.” The extra steps add up if you make several trips to the car to drop off purchases.
Tap into exercise programs on TV. If you have cable TV, you can take advantage of On-Demand exercise programs, ranging from cardiovascular training to yoga and strength-training. It is almost like having a personal instructor come to your home – for the price of your monthly cable bill. You can also rent or buy exercise DVDs or visit KaiserPermanente.org to watch free exercise videos and download audio podcasts.
Daily chores count too. Yard work and household chores, such as mopping and sweeping, also have health benefits. To squeeze in more activity at the office, you can walk over to your co-workers’ desks instead of calling or e-mailing. You can also walk to a more distant restroom and use the stairs instead of the elevator.
Play with your children. When parents join their children outside for play, it’s beneficial on many levels. The entire family is getting the exercise they need; plus, they are strengthening relationships and reinforcing healthy habits. Families can take advantage of sledding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. They can even build snowmen and snow forts together.
Look for new activities. “We are fortunate to have access to many indoor and outdoor activities here in Colorado ,” Dr. Davis says. To stay informed on all the activities taking place in your area, it helps to check local Web sites and area newspapers.
“Because variety is the spice of life, I also encourage people to try new activities, such as snowshoeing, spinning classes, yoga, and any other activities they may find enjoyable,” he adds. New activities help people remain interested in exercise – and keep the winter blues away.
Use that exercise equipment. For many people, the novelty of a new piece of exercise equipment eventually wears off. To help make this investment more enjoyable, place a TV near your treadmill or download new music onto your MP3 player to keep you motivated.
Get a pedometer. A good pedometer costs about $15. This device is a great way to track your steps. To make it more fun and challenging, you can set goals for yourself, or partner with a friend or your spouse and have a friendly competition to see who can get the most steps during a day.
Take advantage of added support
Kaiser Permanente Colorado members can take advantage of many classes and programs in the metro Denver area and in Boulder County. Examples of these classes include the 10,000 Steps® Program, Yoga, and Chi Gung, a program that uses steady, flowing movements, and deep breathing to promote strength, flexibility, relaxation, and balance. Members can also get discounts to complementary health and fitness programs. In addition, Kaiser Permanente Colorado offers tools and calculators to help you track how many calories you burn during certain activities and how to calculate your target heart rate.
To learn more about these programs and how to remain active during the winter, visit KaiserPermanente.org.
Dr. Davis received his medical degree from Emory University and performed his residency at the Medical University of South Carolina.