Between party preparations and gift shopping excursions, it’s not surprising to see your calendar fill up during the winter months. When you do get a breather, the short, frigid days make you want to spend it holed up and hibernating, hot cocoa in hand. Before you know it, your schedule isn’t the only thing that feels tighter — your pants do, too.
How do you keep fitness a priority in the winter? It’s all about mindset, experts say. Commit to making time for physical activity, and you will. “No matter what the circumstances or obstacles, it’s going to be a choice every day,” says Dana Neve, a fitness coach in St. Paul, MN.
Don’t let the holiday whirlwind knock you off your feet — read our expert tips for fitting in fitness this winter.
1. Take it inside. If you’ve been running or biking outdoors all summer, you can keep up that conditioning through the winter in other ways. Not a fan of treadmills or stationary bikes? Many gyms house indoor tracks, while shopping malls often open early in the winter for walkers and runners. Also, many indoor pools are open year-round.
McWilliams suggests stair training. Run up and down the stairs twice, then do pushups off the bottom step. Repeat three times.
2. Work out at home. No gym membership? No problem. You can do entire workouts using your own body weight. Follow along with fitness gurus on YouTube or try a new workout video.
Try this workout from Kimberly Brehm, a fitness coach in New York City: Complete 10 to 12 reps of squats, pushups, and stationary lunges before holding a plank position for several seconds. If you’re a beginner, squat against a chair or coffee table and do pushups or planks from your knees. Repeat the entire routine 3 to 4 times, building up to 5 or 6.
3. Take a class. Many gyms have year-end specials so you can try that Tabata or Zumba class you’ve been wondering about. “You have to take your body on different dates, or it’s going to break up with you,” says Ingrid Nelson, a fitness trainer in Washington, DC. Venture outside your comfort zone — men may find yoga or Pilates an interesting challenge, and women might find they love weight lifting. Wisconsin-based fitness coach Ali McWilliams suggests trying a class at least three times. A single class often doesn’t give you a good picture, and something that feels hard the first time might get easier the next time.
4. Cross train or try something new. Use this season to find an alternative to your regular outdoor workouts. If you’ve been training hard through the summer and fall, you can also use winter to give your body a bit of a break, if needed, or try something restorative like yoga or Pilates. In the long run, “your performance will increase,” McWilliams says.
5. Take up a cold weather sport. Embrace winter sports to burn calories, build muscle mass, and have fun while you’re at it. Cross-country skiing offers a challenging core and cardio workout. Strap on snowshoes for something lower-impact, or bump it up a notch with light jogging or hill walking. Hit the slopes or the ice rink to strengthen leg muscles and improve balance.
6. Dress for the weather: As the air gets colder and drier, take extra steps to protect yourself from the elements if you decide to take your workout outdoors.
- Keep skin safe. Wear lotion and lip balm with an SPF. Snow reflects up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays, which can cause sunburn even when it’s freezing outside.
- Hydrate. Make sure to drink enough water, no matter how low the temperature drops. McWilliams suggests sipping tea or hot water with lemon to stay warm.
- Layer up. Warren Bloom, a fitness trainer in Washington, DC, recommends three layers: 1) A base layer made of dry-wick fabric to keep moisture away from the body; 2) A mid-layer, typically long-sleeved, to trap heat; and 3) A top layer of material like Polartec or Gore-Tex fabric for snowy, windy days. And don’t forget a hat and wool socks (they’re warm and breathable and cushion well).
7. Involve the whole family. Give your kids a screen break — and get your own heart pumping — with activities the whole family can enjoy.
- Get silly. Turn up the music and start an impromptu dance party. Go back to basics with indoor hopscotch, jump rope, and Hula-Hoop contests. Build a fort.
- Wind down with yoga. Animal-themed poses — like down dog and cat-cow – feel playful and familiar to small children and “get them to connect with their body in a different way,” Nelson says.
- Hit the snow. Make snow angels, start a snowball fight, or go sledding. Or try to enlist your kids’ help to shovel the driveway. “It’s great exercise … and kids love to shovel,” McWilliams says.
- Cure cabin fever indoors. When the kids start acting cagey — but it’s too cold and wet to venture outside — head to a gym for rock climbing, Parkour, or trampoline time. Or stroll through the local shopping mall (with a pit stop at the playground, of course).
8. Make it festive. Keep fitness fun and family-oriented by working it into your holiday traditions. Sign up for a Turkey Trot or other holiday-themed 5K. Go caroling. Give your Advent calendar a fun twist and assign activities instead of candy to each day, like a scavenger hunt or dance-off, suggests McWilliams.
There’s plenty you can do before and after mealtime as well. Work up an appetite before dinner with a family flag football game. Or ask the kids to help with dinner, suggests New York City-based wellness coach Ellen Goldman. “Chopping vegetables, mixing up dough — that’s all physical,” she says. Digest it all with an evening walk around the neighborhood, admiring the decorations along the way.
Editor: Deepi Brar
Melissa Pandika is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.