Beat the Winter Blues! Don’t let cold and darkness derail your Fitness Plan!
We are in the midst of winter and the first few weeks of the New Year. The majority of us are likely several pounds heavier coming off of the holiday cheer. Many of us have made resolutions to shed the pounds and get on a healthy track, but alas, when the alarm goes off at 5:45 am, you look outside and see the weather outside is frightful! It is cold, dark, gloomy. What do you do??? SNOOZE button. “I’ll just exercise after work”, you say, but alas after work it is dark and cold outside yet again! The wind makes your nose cold as ice, the prospect of exercise seems not so nice. And thus you head into a downward spiral during these dark and cold days, without the happy “drug” called exercise. The excuses mount, the pounds are packed on, and it is hard for you to get out of this rut, this “black hole of winter.”
Sound familiar to anyone?
Knowing myself, like many others, I am prone to seasonal affective disorder, feeling down in the dumps during the season with less light. Over the years I have tried some tricks to fight bad man winter, prime the pump, warm the body, and maintain fitness- the psychological and physically positive benefits that come from aerobic exercise. Here are some of them-
1. Take a hot shower. Put that alarm of yours on the other side of the room to force you to get out of bed in the morning. Don’t give yourself the snooze option. Lay your WARM workout clothes out before you go to bed. But…..before you put your athletic gear on….. put them in the dryer, and then hop in the hot shower. Enjoy the heat. Steam up the bathroom. Stretch. Start visualizing your workout. You are warming up your muscles, and getting your mind into the game. Towel off, do some jumping jacks, and then retrieve those clothes from the dryer. By this time they should be nice and warm. Layer them on, and head out into the wintry mix. You are warm. You can do it!
2. Drink coffee. I am convinced that the coffee bean is a miracle. Coffee is extremely good for you, packing scores of antioxidant effects, it’s calorie free, and it has a motivating component-> caffeine. AND during the winter it is even more important, because it is hot! Over the years I have made it a habit to have coffee freshly brewed on timer in the mornings, and have a big cup of joe right in the shower. Can never be too warm! And when the coffee kicks into gear you may find yourself using the bathroom for something else too. Whether in the morning, or in the late afternoon after work, when I need a kick in the rear end to get exercising, coffee does the trick. Research has shown that it helps you think clearer, can be mild anti-depressant, and helps to prolong your endurance ability. I find that it also helps get my blood pumping and loosens up the achy joints that I am feeling more and more with old age.
3. Do hot yoga or go for a swim in a heated pool. Winter can be a time to try something new in your exercise routine and with minimal clothes. With the great outdoors offering nothing but darkness and cold, why not move to a warm activity indoors? Yoga is an extremely good cross training exercise that builds balance, coordination, flexibility and core strength. Yoga studios abound these days, and most allow you to just drop-in, so don’t be afraid to say “Revise” when you’re out on a run and can’t feel your feet, and pop into a yoga class to warm up. Likewise, swimming can be a relaxing exercise, good for the joints, and a valuable cross-training tool in the winter time. Most indoor pools are heated and also offer a hot tub option if you need to get in there to warm up first. With both these options the fellow exercisers you encounter may be a nice surprise as well.
4. Take a walk outside at lunchtime. The worst thing that one can do during the winter is to subject yourself to being indoors the ENTIRETY of daylight time. The amount of daylight hours is short enough, why would you come to work when it is dark and then leave when it is dark? This reminds me of being on a submarine. Down and out. The best way to not let yourself succumb to this is to force yourself to take a walk outside at lunchtime. This is when the sun is at its peak, when it is warmest, and is the chance to get the most conversion of happy Vitamin D from your skin as possible. I often grab a cup of soup and sip it as I walk. By doing this I am getting healthy warm soup, exercise, fresh air, sunlight and a time to think in peace. If you see me on my Baldwin lunch walk, with my soup, give me a wave. I’ll be smiling.
5. Make it a date. Peer pressure is a wonderful thing. To avoid making excuses as why you can’t exercise, make yourself accountable by scheduling a workout date with someone else. Find someone you work with, or one of your good friends who also has a resolution to exercise in the morning or after work, and police each other. Going for a run, or a bike ride, or a swim with someone else also can be highly enjoyable with good conversation, friendly competition, and motivation. For instance, this morning I had a friend of mine standing in the freezing air outside my place at 5:45am waiting for me to go running. You better believe I was up and ready to go on time. Don’t be that guy or girl that bails on or sleeps through a winter exercise date with a friend. They may not be your friend for much longer…… Use the power of accountability to get your butt out the door. And be sure to bring them a cup of coffee as well.
Use these tips to power through the doldrums of winter. Don’t let the lack of light and warmth derail your fitness. Don’t worry, summer is right around the corner!
Dr. Andy Baldwin