To exercise safely in more challenging conditions, you may need to make some adjustments to your routine. When exercising outdoors, it's important to dress properly.
Wear layers that you can peel off as necessary. Ideally, the layer closest to your skin should be made of a breathable wicking material and not sweat-absorbing cotton. Then add a layer of fleece or cotton for warmth and, finally, a windbreaker or waterproof outer layer.
Make sure you've adequately insulated your extremities. Your face, fingers and toes are most likely to get frostbitten. Pain or tingling in your ears, fingers or toes is a sign that it's time to come in from the cold. And don't forget a hat -- substantial body heat is lost through your head.
As we enter the coldest, bleakest months of winter and the promise of spring seems far off, I strongly encourage you, if you haven’t already, to create a workout plan to keep your body and mood in good shape as you look forward to warmer weather.
It’s easy to forego exercise during the colder months, especially if you live where winters are harsh and there’s frequently snow and ice on the ground.
Maybe you put on a few pounds over the holidays and now you just want to hang out at home in your sweats and hibernate until spring.
My recommendation? Resist the urge. Keep moving!
Winter Weather Can Be Disastrous to Your Health
The colder months can take a toll on both your physical and mental well-being.
It’s estimated that at least a quarter of a million Americans suffer from the winter blues. The condition is especially prevalent in areas of the country where the colder months bring days or weeks on end of dark, cloudy skies and freezing temperatures.
A case of the winter blues, not to be confused with the more serious condition known as SAD (seasonal affective disorder), can include some or all of the following symptoms:
Lethargy, feelings of fatigue
Irritability and a feeling of being cooped up or “stir crazy”
Sweet cravings, overeating
Loss of interest in sex
The colder months and lack of sunshine can also seriously deplete or even wipe out your vitamin D stores.
Vitamin D deficiency can cause or exacerbate a wide range of serious diseases including common cancers, autoimmune disorders, infectious diseases and cardiovascular problems.
How to Stay Sharp and Fit When It’s Freezing Outside
In a word, exercise.
Regular workouts during the winter months will boost your mood naturally and chase away the blahs or even more serious feelings of depression.
Exercise has been found to work better than antidepressants to treat symptoms of depression. Just getting outside for a walk or to the gym for a 30 minute workout can dramatically improve your mood, both short and longer term.
A personalized exercise plan will help keep you on track and motivated. And imagine how happy you’ll be when spring arrives and you’ve stayed in great shape through the winter months.
If you enjoy winter sports like downhill or cross-country skiing or ice skating, which are great for your body and get you outdoors, by all means take advantage of the colder weather to engage in those activities.
If winter sports aren’t your thing, on sunny days get out for a brisk walk so you can benefit from both the movement and the sunshine. Breathe in the fresh, crisp air and enjoy the warmth of the sun on your skin.
On cold, cloudy days, you can exercise indoors. Join a gym or make use of that health club membership you already have.
Another alternative for indoor workouts is to purchase exercise equipment for your home. In order to get a well-rounded workout, I recommend either a treadmill or elliptical machine and a weight set.
It’s very important to choose exercises you enjoy and then alternate among them to ward off boredom. Indoors during the winter months, your choices might include:
Regular Workouts Improve More Than Your Mood
Exercise helps boost your immune system, which means fewer colds and flu during the winter months.
Exercise has been shown to decrease your risk of diseases as wide ranging as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer. In addition, there is evidence regular workouts can cause healthy structural changes in your heart.
Exercise is also a great way to relieve tension and manage the dangerous physical symptoms of stress. When you exercise, endorphins are released in your brain. Endorphins are all natural tranquilizers and mood elevators which create feelings of relaxation and renewal.
Winter and Vitamin D
As I mentioned earlier in this article, a lack of sunshine during winter months can wreak havoc on your vitamin D levels. Massive amounts of research are now proving what can happen to your health and longevity when you are vitamin D deficient.
The beneficial effects of vitamin D are truly astounding. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial to optimize the levels of vitamin D in your body year round in order to support your long-term health.
If you are new to my newsletter or want to learn more about vitamin D and what it means to your health, visit my Vitamin D Resource Page. Here you’ll find a wealth of breaking news on the latest vitamin D studies and the best way to test and optimize your own vitamin D levels.
I can’t stress enough, especially during these dark, cold days of winter, how vitally important it is for you to keep on top of your vitamin D intake.
Make Exercise Your Drug of Choice
The benefits of working out are enormous, and evidence continues to mount that exercise is a powerful natural drug in the treatment of depression.
Like any drug, though, exercise needs to be prescribed very carefully.
The fact is most Americans have a serious exercise deficiency And workouts can’t be “banked.” In other words, the exercise you do in warmer months won’t help you stay optimally healthy if you spend your winter sitting around the house.
If you don’t regularly exercise, just getting going is key. It’s fine to start small, say with a short daily walk. Build from there by developing your own comprehensive exercise strategy using the free tools available on this site.
If you’re really out of shape or have specific health concerns to address through exercise, think ahead and create a mental picture of yourself working up to a goal of 90 minutes a day of cardiovascular activity.
If you’re suffering the winter blahs, blues or feelings of depression, the prospect of an intense 90 minute workout may seem overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to start small. Move forward gradually and only as fast as your body will allow you to progress.
Remember, warmer weather is just around the corner. Do your mind and body a favor by getting active now, in the dead of winter, so you can take full advantage of the longer, sunny days of spring when they arrive.