Here we are, closing in on the shortest day of the year and, if you’re like me, you’re probably finding it harder to stay active. Fewer hours of daylight combine with colder temperatures to create obstacles for even the most active among us. Add that to the current environment of gym closures and physical distancing protocols, and many of the supportive structures we rely on this time of year are just not available. Health experts advise that we remove as many exercise obstacles as possible and build in small changes to support winter weather activity.
Have a Plan
Knowing what’s coming gives you a sense of control you can build on. Check your weather for the week ahead to plan your outdoor activities and then organize the gear you’ll need to deal with the elements. Set out your gear each night, preferably in a warm spot, so you won’t have to figure out what you’ll need through sleepy eyes. If you typically exercise in the early hours, you might even consider sleeping in your workout gear to make it easier to get up and out, if comfort allows.
Once you have your plan for the week and your gear assembled, make sure you put your schedule in your calendar, set reminder alerts and reach out to your workout buddies. The work of planning ahead deepens your investment in your activity, designates its space in your schedule and helps weather-proof your outdoor activities.
Wearing the right clothing for outdoor activity in your climate is another way of weather-proofing your efforts. The layers you wear for a given activity are matched to the weather, your activity level, and your personal comfort. For cold weather, there are essentially three layers to consider, each with a specific function. The base layer wicks moisture away from your skin to keep you warm and dry while the mid layer insulates and provides warmth. The outer layer blocks wind, repels water and allows moisture to escape.
In cold weather we need to consider our hands, head and feet when gearing up for exercising outdoors. Wear a hat, mittens or gloves, socks, and shoes or boots that match your activity and weather conditions. Prioritize water repellent, wind proof and insulated cold-climate gear for your extremities.
Knowing you are prepared for the weather goes a long way in getting your head in the game. Gearing up and being comfortable despite inclement weather deepens your commitment to getting our there, rain or shine.
The connection between energy and hydration is well-documented and is often a hot topic when the weather is warm. But we are equally vulnerable to dehydration when it’s cold outside, says Susannah Wallenstrom, a registered dietitian in Marin County, CA. “Cold weather blunts the thirst mechanism and even though you may sweat when you exercise, you may not think to drink water to replenish your fluids.” Dehydration contributes to a loss of energy and motivation, which is the last thing we need in the short, cold days of winter!
“Cold weather blunts the thirst mechanism and even though you may sweat when you exercise, you many not think to drink water to replenish your fluids.”Susannah Wallenstrom, MPH, RDN
Support your energy supply and keep up with your exercise plans by staying hydrated. Drink at least half your body weight in ounces a day. For example, a 128-pound person should drink at least 64 ounces a day. Try to drink 8-16 oz of water before heading out the door to exercise. And be sure to replenish fluids when you get back!
The social aspects of our fitness routines are a huge part of what keeps many of us going when our personal motivation dips. Our accountability to our exercise friends and the rewards we get through that social connection are built-in defenses against the inevitable drops in motivation. In fact, studies show that exercising with a friend increases motivation, makes us work out harder and improves consistency.
Last month a friend and I started playing tennis once a week at a neighborhood park. I am loving the challenge of learning something new with a friend while also getting fresh air and exercise, and I can personally vouch for the social exercise perks! When motivation and routines fizzle, planning an activity with a friend can often be the thing that gets us back on track.
Try Something New
Speaking of fresh starts, when motivation is low, novelty can be a great way to reinvigorate your exercise routine. If you live in a more wintry climate, seasonal activities (snow shoeing? cross-country skiing?) can provide can some inspiration. Or maybe you — like me with tennis — want to learn a new skill. Tennis, golf and mountain biking are great outdoor activities that can be fun for a variety of skill levels.
There has never been a better time to try something new virtually. Most fitness classes have made the jump to a virtual platform and are easily accessible from your living room. In fact there is a wealth of free movement classes available on Youtube and Vimeo. I have been trying different types of on-line dance classes. I recently did a fun recorded workout with the New York City Ballet Company and I love the dance classes by San Francisco’s Rhythm & Motion dance program. Rhythm & Motion offers live virtual classes as well as a library of recorded classes and they are so much fun! Winter is the perfect time to try a new activity — from the comfort of your home.:)
So here’s a thought: Our ability to follow through on our intentions does not depend on the depth of our convictions. According to Dr. Christine Carter of The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, our follow-through is more connected to our willingness to be bad or uncomfortable in our desired behavior. Apparently, staying motivated in the face of big challenge (like exercising in winter) is the tough stuff. So pick a small goal — maybe just getting out the door?!
Dr. Carter recommends we strip the big goal down to something that is so ridiculously easy that we can do it, even when nothing is going as planned. Dr. Carter calls this the “better than nothing” behavior. A minimal effort towards that big, lofty thing is better than nothing.
Dr. Carter recently gave a virtual Ted Talk entitled “Confessions of a Bad Exerciser.” And while the example she used to deliver her talk was of an exercise goal, the theme spanned large.
At the beginning of Shelter-In-Place, Dr. Carter set a goal of becoming a runner and signed up to run a half-marathon. The biggest problem with her goal was actually just getting out the door to start running. So she decided to commit to running just one minute a day, letting go of the loftier goal of becoming a marathon runner. Her running habit grew from there.
“When we abandon our grand plans and great ambitions in favor of taking that first step, we shift. And paradoxically it’s only in that tiny shift that our great plans and grand ambitions are born.”Dr. Christine Carter, The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley
How are you staying on track with your exercise plans this winter? Are there motivation strategies that help you? Please share below! Be sure to come follow Blendtopia on Facebook to stay connected, and follow us on Pinterest to learn more ways to help support your mental, physical, and emotional wellness.