Winter’s Chill Shouldn’t be an Exercise Buzzkill

By Susan Tulino

With the new year comes resolutions, often revolving around health and wellness — “I’ll lose two pounds per month,” or “I’ll eat vegetables with every meal.” However, according to a study from the University of Scranton, 80 percent of people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions and often drop them within the first month of the year.

A big factor in this statistic is likely lack of motivation, especially for the exercise-focused goals. It can be all too easy to let the chilly winter months deter you from being active. After all, who wants to go for a run when it’s cold enough to see your breath or drive to yoga or CrossFit when it’s snowing? Staying cozy on the couch is often a more appealing option.

But according to Kara Siford, MD, a family medicine provider at Bull Run Family Medicine – Manassas, a department of Novant Health UVA Health System, keeping up activity levels in the winter is vital for both your physical and mental health, New Year’s resolution or not.

“I’m a big proponent of staying active year-round to help maintain my overall health, and I always recommend my patients do the same,” said Dr. Siford. “Cold weather isn’t an excuse to cease activity for three months. Consistent activity throughout the winter months will keep your cardiovascular system healthy, help you avoid gaining weight and can even help with seasonal depression and mental health problems. I encourage patients to get creative with how to get their heart rates up indoors or make going outside in the cold more bearable, maybe even fun!”

Exercising for Health

Join a gym or dust off that treadmill and exercise at home. Using a treadmill or indoor track is a great way to work out while staying warm. Prince William County runs several recreation and fitness centers with various amenities, including pools, fitness machines and group exercise rooms. Visit the county’s website at PWCVA.org to locate the right facility for you.

Keeping the Winter Weight Off

Activity also helps combat the dreaded winter weight gain. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, the average American gains 1-2 pounds over the holidays.

“When you isolate those 1-2 pounds, the amount seems moderate,” said Dr. Siford. “The issue is that multiple studies have shown that most people don’t lose them when winter is over. That amount adds up year over year.”

What you can do: Commit to taking a brisk 10-minute walk after each meal and invite family, friends or coworkers to join. Walking at a faster clip works your heart harder, which helps keep you warm, and having a conversation during your walk helps pass the time.

Mental Pick-Me-Up

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to changes in season and affects about five percent of Americans, according to the American Psychiatric Association. It has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain caused by shorter daylight hours and manifests in symptoms such as sadness, fatigue and a lack of enthusiasm.

“Exercising releases endorphins, hormones that reduce pain and increase feelings of happiness,” said Dr. Siford. “Even light physical activity, such as yoga, can help patients who are experiencing seasonal depression.”

What you can do: Try yoga or another meditative practice. Invest in a yoga mat and some light weights and set up shop in a sunny room to increase sunlight exposure. Incorporating light stretches, moderate strength training and body-weight exercises into your daily routine is a great way to boost your endorphins without having to leave the house.

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