How to Stay Fit Through a Long Winter
Exercises and tips to keep you active even during the doldrums
Anyone living north of the Mason-Dixon line knows that winter can be a big obstacle to staying fit. Cold temperatures, short days and icy sidewalks can all conspire to keep you indoors and on the couch. Add to that a season of holiday merrymaking and the fact that as we age it gets harder and harder to shed those holiday pounds, and the situation can start looking grim.
But, since daydreaming about summer won’t make it arrive any sooner, here are some exercises and tips to help you stay or get fit as we get through the rest of this winter.
Track Your Active Minutes
Unfortunately, channel surfing doesn’t count as exercise, so you’ve got to get up and move. Wearing an activity tracker is a great way to motivate yourself and hold yourself accountable. In addition to wearable devices, you can probably use your smartphone. Many phones have native apps to track your steps and active minutes, and there are tons of free or low-cost apps with even more features.
Whatever device you use, try to work your way up to 120 active minutes per day. This doesn’t have to be “official" exercise. House cleaning, doing laundry and cooking healthy meals are good ways to get up and moving, and if the mood strikes, dancing does wonders for body and mind alike. If you normally sit a lot at work, stand up as often as possible. You can even give yourself “active credit” for standing during the day: Count two minutes of standing as one minute of activity.
Try Some Morning Exercises
If you wake up feeling stiff each morning (and who doesn’t?) there’s a remedy for that: gentle movement. In the time it takes to brew a cup of coffee, you can get through this simple mobility routine. It may even give your day a better start than the coffee itself. Here’s a link to a short video demonstration of the routine, also shown below.
Try these exercises, which I demonstrate in the video:
- Trunk Twists
- Hip Hinges
- Arm Circles
- High Knee Pulls
- Cross-over Side Steps (Carioca)
- Neck Rotations: Side to Side, Up & Down
Keep Your Muscles in Good Shape
Winter is the perfect time to strengthen muscles and slow or reverse the loss of lean muscle mass that starts in our 30s. Learn how to do each of the following fundamental exercises — select one from each group and do one to three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions every other day. The links below take you to demonstrations on the American Council on Exercise website.
Step-ups: These are great for building leg strength and don’t put as much strain on the knees as squats or lunges.
Squats: Squats are one of the most functional exercises because they replicate the actions of getting in and out of a car, chair or sofa.
Lunges: Lunges are great for building the strength and mobility needed to get down low to the ground and back up, and they also challenge your balance.
Planks: Planks are the perfect total core exercise when done properly. If you can’t do a full plank at first, start on your knees. When regular planks feel easy, try picking up one foot or hand at a time and moving it out to the side or in front of you.
Back extensions (Supermans): Back extensions strengthen the stabilizers of the lower back, an area that’s often neglected more than the abdominals.
Push-ups: Push-ups are a wonderfully functional exercise because they recruit many different upper body muscle groups and simultaneously work the core. If you can’t do a full push-up on your toes, drop down to your knees or start by pushing against a wall. Move your feet further from the wall as you get stronger. Before you know it, you’ll be able to do push-ups on the floor.
It’s important to incorporate pulling movements because we tend to ignore the back side of our body. Rows are the perfect exercise for strengthening the back, and they can be performed with a resistance band, dumbbells or a barbell.
Get Social to Stay Motivated
Another great way to stay motivated and accountable is by exercising with others. Join a fitness class or a walking group, or schedule regular, weekly workouts with a friend or a group of friends.
If you live in a rural area without these resources, seek out a virtual group on social media.
Get Outside When You Can
Finally, don’t be afraid to go outside, weather permitting. Shoveling snow may be the only outdoor activity you normally do in the winter, but there’s nothing more beautiful than a winter hike in the woods or snowshoeing across a frozen lake. Here are a few tips to help you enjoy your outdoor adventures:
- Walking on snow-covered grass can be safer than sidewalks that may still have some ice on them. In either case, wear a good pair of boots or get a pair of ice cleats that fit over your boots or shoes.
- An even safer bet may be to hike on trails. Just be sure you’re walking on trails that are well maintained. For etiquette’s sake, never walk on a cross-country ski trail.
- Learn how to use snowshoes or cross-country skis. Check for beginner classes through community education or at local sporting goods stores that sell this gear. As with hiking, don’t snowshoe on cross-country ski trails.
- Play like a kid! Go sledding, build a snowman, make snow angels. There’s nothing like a bright winter day to bring out the playful spirit in all of us.
By making an effort to engage in a few favorite wintertime activities, you can find yourself as fit this spring as you were last fall.