Winter Fitness: How to Stay Active and Energised
Winter can be a bit bleak - cold, not much sun, short days, ice and snow.
That’s probably why Christmas became a festival of eating and drinking – to cheer everybody up!
At this time of the year, it’s all too easy to feel lethargic and unmotivated to exercise. This is especially true for people that spend a lot of time outdoors during the brighter months.
Some people may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), characterised by low mood and lack of energy due to a lack of natural sunlight.
Even if you still feel bright and chipper during the winter, it can still be difficult to find ways to enjoy your favourite fitness activities. This guide will help you to think outside the box in terms of the activities you can do and will also highlight ways to keep you on track with your fitness routine throughout the frostier months.
We’ll start with probably the most important thing to get right when it comes to training during the winter months. Motivation. Even dragging yourself to the car to drive to the gym can seem like an ordeal when it’s cold and dark outside.
Here are a few golden bits of advice to get you up and moving this winter.
1 | Set a schedule and stick to it
Even if it means reducing your normal workout rate. It’s better to achieve a little bit regularly than aim too high and give up early on. For instance, if you normally do a 30-minute outdoor run and 40-minute weight lifting workout every day, if you’re prone to low energy in the winter try cutting the times in half, or only doing them every other day instead.
2 | Artificial ‘natural’ light
Also known as ‘SAD lights’ or light boxes, these are a great way to get some of those feel-good hormones coursing through your body. With an improved mood, you’re much more likely to stick to your workout schedule. Pop one on and sit next to it for an hour or so in the morning and you’re sure to notice a big improvement in your mood throughout the day.
3 | Diet and nutrition
Yes, you are what you eat - it’s the truth! During the winter you want to increase your intake of fruit and veg rich in Vitamin C, iron-rich foods and slow-releasing carbs to keep your energy levels up. Check out the end of this guide for some more detailed winter nutrition advice.
4 | Try something new
If you’re an outdoorsy-type, then winter probably isn’t your friend. So, it’s a good time to try something different. We’ll explore some ideas in more depth later, but just remember to keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to try out some new things.
5 | Enlist the help of friends
A fitness friend can help to keep you accountable during the darker months. You can keep each other motivated and drag each other out on those days when you really don’t feel like doing anything.
6 | Invest in an activity tracker
There are dozens of wearable devices and smartphone apps available these days to keep you motivated. Some of the more sophisticated ones allow you to set goals and will analyse your stats to give you insights on how to achieve them.
7 | Get plenty of sleep
If you’re normally a night owl, it may be a good idea to try and get to bed a bit earlier in the winter. It means you can get up a bit earlier and make the most of all the daylight. It’s generally recommended that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. If you don’t get enough, it’s easy to get into a sleep deficit which can lower your mood and energy levels even further.
A quick note on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
If you have noticeably lower moods and lack of energy during the winter, you may be one of the 14% of the population that suffer from SAD. In extreme cases, it can be seriously debilitating, leaving people house-bound for months.
The medical advice to deal with SAD is to eat slow-releasing carbs for energy, drink plenty of water, exercise for at least 30 minutes per day and get at least 20 minutes of sunlight (natural or artificial) and avoid drinking alcohol.
Ideally, you should try to get some exercise outside to soak up some UV rays is the sun is shining. For more information see this page.
Indoor climbing walls are ideal for people who love adventurous sports. Climbing indoors is just as fun as the real thing and is also very good for your overall fitness, developing your upper body strength and flexibility, as well as providing a good cardio workout.
Rowing or kayaking
Rowing or kayaking provide fantastic all-around exercise, mixing cardio with strength training. The good thing is that you can get outside and do them during the winter, just as long as the water isn’t frozen over. If you enjoy activities such as open-water swimming, this can be a good substitute over the winter months.
There’s no better time to try out a winter sport than winter. Go figure. Activities such as skiing, snowboarding and ice-skating can be fun activities to do with friends or family too, so you get the social element to motivate you. You don’t have to travel to another country either, plenty of towns and cities have outdoor ice-rinks that are open during the winter and there are also dry-ski slopes dotted around the country.
If you’ve never really done much weight training, the idea of going to a gym full of people pumping iron may seem a bit off-putting or intimidating. But don’t be too quick to judge. Most modern gyms have a mixture of resistance machines and free weights, and there are usually plenty of instructors on hand to help you out if you’re not sure what to do.
If you don’t want to join a gym, you can perform basic weight training routines in the comfort of your own home. All you need is a set of dumbbells or kettlebells and you’re good to go.
If you don’t normally attend any gym classes winter might be a good time to try some out. There’s a huge variety of classes and activities on offer in most gyms these days. Some of them can be almost a like-for-like substitute for your regular exercise, keen cyclists will probably enjoy ‘spin’ classes, for instance. You can also use it as an opportunity to try something completely new like yoga, tai chi or pilates. You may discover a passion for something you hadn’t previously considered, so don’t be afraid to get out there and give them a shot.
Although you can still do activities such as running or cycling during the winter months if you layer up and get the right running shoes, if we get a cold snap with snow and ice it can become too hazardous. That doesn’t mean you need to stop these exercises altogether, however. All gyms have a wide range of cardio machines, or you can buy treadmills or cycling machines for use at home. Some gyms will allow you to set up a membership for only 2 to 3 months at a time, which could be perfect if you only plan to use them during the winter.
Good nutrition and a healthy, well-balanced diet are important all year round. But, during the winter months, it’s even more crucial that you get certain nutrients and vitamins into your system to stay fit and healthy.
A breakfast of porridge oats topped with dried fruit such as dates or raisins is a real winter-warmer and will keep your energy levels topped up throughout the morning and into the afternoon. For extra nutrition and energy, add some seeds and nuts to the mixture too.
Vitamin C is vital for keeping your immune system strong and energy levels topped up, so make sure you eat plenty of fruit and veg such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, red peppers and sweet potatoes.
To fight off winter colds and flu, iron is essential for a healthy immune system. Foods that are high in iron include red meat, green leafy veg and lentils. For people on plant-based diets, it may be a good idea to take an iron supplement. Always check with your doctor before adding mineral supplements - they’re called trace minerals for a reason, and too much can be toxic.
Zinc is another important mineral for your immune system. Make sure you eat plenty of legumes, spinach and shellfish.
B12 is vital for sustaining energy and a healthy immune system. Fish, eggs and dairy products are high in vitamin B12, so if you follow a vegan or plant-based diet make sure you take a supplement, especially in the winter months.
Avoid sugary treats
The temptation to eat too many sugary treats can be overwhelming during the winter, especially over the Christmas period. Try to avoid too much sugar by reaching for healthier comfort foods such as warm soups, seeds, nuts, dried fruits and roasted root veg.