Keep Exercise Alive Through the Winter

By Carol Phillips

During the winter months, it can be hard to remain motivated to exercise daily at a level that supports optimal health. The cold, dark days can leave us feeling like a bear, ready to curl up and hibernate. Although that works well for the bear, our bodies are designed to be active throughout the day, every day.

If you think of exercise as a chore, it’s time to redefine your physical activity. Don’t fall into the trap of inactivity, which can lead to increased risk of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and cancer. Every minute we spend in physical activity is helping to reduce our risk of illness, disease, and the negative effects of aging. Daily activity also boosts our immune system, which is even more important in the winter and especially during a pandemic!

Use the information below to create a winning exercise program:

Choose exercises you enjoy. Your body doesn’t care whether you’re doing yoga, Zumba, walking, kayaking, or sledding with the family after a winter storm. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll be much more likely to exercise for life. Try new activities to keep from becoming bored.

Cardiovascular exercise. Cardiovascular (cardio or aerobic) exercise occurs when we move continuously, raising our heart rate and keeping it elevated for a length of time to result in health benefits. Two of the many benefits of cardio exercise include exercising one of the most important muscles in our bodies, our heart, and burning unhealthy fat. Need some ideas? Think of “moving” words: walking, running, biking, hiking, swimming, etc.

Strength training. Strength training has many health benefits, but two main categories are:

1. Keeping muscles strong, which enables us to remain independent; also known as able perform activities of daily living (ADLs), and

2. Helping our bones stay strong. When our muscles contract, they pull on the bone, which tells the bone to get stronger in order to keep up with the demand on the muscle.

The goal is to challenge the muscle with weight, so the muscle and bone don’t weaken. When you challenge your body with weight, your body will respond by strengthening muscles and bones.

Note: Muscle soreness is a common side effect of performing new exercises. Unless you really overdo it, think of muscle soreness as something positive. When the soreness subsides, the muscle will be stronger. Instead of being discouraged, give yourself positive feedback for taking your fitness to a higher level. Also, drink plenty of water to help flush out toxins and remain hydrated.

Stretch. When we exercise, our muscles shorten and our range of motion can be negatively reduced. Stretching helps return our muscles to their ideal length, allowing our bodies to move easily. This also reduces our risk of injury. Get in the habit of stretching immediately after exercising, while watching your favorite show, or as a way to help unwind, mentally, at the end of the day.

Balance. Challenging your sense of balance is important because it can mean the difference, when walking, between slipping and catching yourself versus slipping, falling, and becoming injured. In an instant, a fall can negatively affect you for the rest of your life.

Most of our body mass is in the upper two-thirds of our body. This disproportion means we are constantly at risk of falling and becoming injured. Working on improving our balance can literally keep us on our feet and out of harm’s way!

Regular exercise also contributes to better mental health. When we increase our heart rate through exercise, our brains release dopamine, the “feel good” or “happy” hormone, which helps give us a greater sense of well-being.

Adopt a new way of viewing exercise and discover the countless ways you can enjoy daily movement. Need some help getting started? Simply turn on some music and dance!

Carol Phillips is a national health and wellness expert, the award-winning author of 52 Simple Ways to Health, and the radio host of Ask Coach Carol. Her company, Health Design, helps businesses significantly reduce costs and increase productivity by prioritizing health, wellness, and safety practices. Health Design is a SHRM Recertification Provider. Based in Manchester, NH, she can be reached through her website at HealthDesignNH.com.