Winter is a notorious fitness killer. There are the holidays, the shortened daylight and the cold weather — all enough to keep you closer to the couch than the gym. But maintaining the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and two or more days of strengthening exercise each week is possible with a little creativity and discipline.
MAKE A REALISTIC PLAN — AND STAY WITH IT
The first step is to stick with a routine. “You need to make a plan and hold yourself accountable,” says exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE) Pete McCall. “The psychology of maintaining the habit of fitness is important. If you get out of the habit, that’s the danger.”
Making exercise goals realistic is important, too, which may mean embracing an “anything is better than nothing” approach. “Doing 15 to 30 minutes of exercise daily makes a huge difference. And while it may not improve fitness, it can help offset any weight gain,” he explains.
Try getting outside to exercise if you can. “It’s not just the physical activity when you’re outdoors,” says sports physiologist and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) fellow Michael Bracko, Ed.D. “The sun also provides many benefits.”
FIND THE RIGHT GEAR
“Invest in some good winter exercise clothing,” suggests Bracko. “Getting the right equipment makes a huge difference; you don’t want too much or too little.” He says embracing layers is key — including warm undergarments, hats and gloves — as well as finding clothing with moisture-wicking and wind-resistant fabric. Also make sure your clothing is reflective if you plan to be outside at night.
McCall values the psychological effect of spending money on quality outerwear. “It helps you get in the mindset and then you know you don’t have an excuse once it starts getting colder and darker.” When excuses begin to pile up, he likes to think of his Alaskan sister-in-law’s saying: “There’s no bad weather; there’s just bad gear.”
And don’t forget a water bottle. “People don’t realize that you need to stay hydrated when it’s colder, but you do still need water,” he says.
SLIP ON SOME SNOWSHOES
A lot easier than cross-country skiing, snowshoeing is a great way to enjoy the elements while burning calories. To get more out of the workout, Bracko suggests using poles to engage your whole body. This combination will work your quads, glutes, hamstrings, shoulders and core, and will give you some good cardio. Snowshoeing is often perceived as boring, but it can be different each time. Like running, you can pick up the pace, go for longer distances or try hills. Don’t have the right equipment at home? Although the sport isn’t quite as mainstream as skiing, Bracko says that most sporting goods stores sell a variety of snowshoe gear.
Ice skating isn’t just for kids. It provides a solid cardio workout and effectively engages leg muscles. “Anyone who skates regularly has great quads and glutes, which means a great butt” says Bracko. To increase the intensity, he suggests making as many turns as possible while skating. You can also practice some interval training by skating fast on the straights and gliding on corners.
JOIN A CLUB
Use the winter months to join a team sport or group, suggests McCall. “It can be a great way to learn new things and meet new people.”
The options are endless. There’s flag football leagues and a range of indoor sports such as basketball, softball and soccer. Running groups can also keep you safe in the dark and offer a sense of camaraderie despite the cold climate. “It’s nice to have other people to commiserate with,” says McCall.
EMBRACE EVERYDAY EXERCISE OPPORTUNITIES
Workouts come in many different forms, and that includes many everyday activities common in the winter months. “People don’t realize that chores like shoveling definitely count,” says McCall. Cleaning your house vigorously before a family holiday visit? Serious scrubbing also counts. Because many don’t consider these activities exercise, though, they don’t properly warm up for them. He recommends stretching properly and starting slowly, especially with shoveling.
Also try to find extra activity where you can, such as taking the stairs or parking farther away from your destination and walking.