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Meeting Winter’s Challenges: Staying Fit This Season

By Bill McGrath

Staying healthy and fit during the winter months can be challenging, but all it really takes is a little thoughtful planning and being proactive. 

Sure, everything fun seems to happen outside during the warmer months, but that doesn’t mean we should hibernate when it gets cold and dark. It’s true: We have six hours less daylight during the shortest days of the year and an average temperature in the low 20s—less than optimal conditions for outdoor activities. But don’t let the environment derail your ability to stay active. 

Read on for a few strategies to help you maintain health and fitness, and have fun doing it.

Embrace the Snow!

Invest in snowshoes. The same 30-minute walk you take in good weather on flat terrain can burn twice the calories when you snowshoe. If you’d rather be running, there are strategies for safer ways to accomplish that too. For example, slow down and shorten your stride to reduce the risk of a fall. Consider a trail-running shoe with more tread or those with spikes for better traction. A low-cost option is slip-on cleats like YakTrax. In fact, it’s smart to have a pair of these that you keep attached to a dedicated pair of boots or shoes. You’ll save time and the hassle of tugging them on, and more important, you’ll reduce your risk of slipping on icy surfaces.

Another great seasonal activity for staying fit is ice-skating. I really like the lateral movement it requires; it adds a movement dimension to the muscle groups used in many of the activities and exercises we already do. When it comes to health benefits, skating is equivalent to running, but you don’t experience the same ground-force reaction that can cause joint discomfort when you run. It does take some time to develop the skill, but don’t let that deter you if you enjoy it. Set a goal to skate once a week, and the consistency will pay off with improved skills and comfort on the ice.  

When winter throws its fiercest storms, gale-force winds, and arctic temperatures at us, an indoor workout is the way to go. Try working out early before you start your day to ensure that you get some movement in before your schedule has a chance to get sidetracked. We’re all subject to busy days and tight schedules when our workout gets pushed aside for work and family needs. Try a full-body circuit routine of squats, push-ups, lunges, planks, and high knees—30 seconds each, 3 rounds, with a 2-minute rest between circuit will take less than 15 minutes. The many benefits of an early morning workout include enhanced metabolism, a habit of consistency, and improved physical and mental energy to carry you through the rest of the day.

Whatever winter activity you choose, make it something you really enjoy. You’re much more likely to engage in something that’s fun and enjoyable. And remember, someone once said, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor wardrobe choices.” Bundle up in layers and add hand and foot warmers on the coldest days. If you’re not comfortable, you’ll cut any activity short, even one that’s fun.

Stay on Track

As important as movement is staying on track. Healthy-eating behaviors are the most critical part of the equation for maintaining health and fitness throughout the year. With holiday parties and social gatherings in the weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve and Day, it’s far too easy to indulge and gain unwanted weight. How can you take control?

Be careful about drinking your calories at all times but especially during the holidays. Calories from all drinks add up quickly, and those containing alcohol pose the biggest challenge. When you plan to socialize, consider setting a drink limit and, in between cocktails, drink water. You’ll keep the calorie count down and avoid a hangover next morning.

When it comes to water, remember that it’s easy to drink plenty of it during the warmer months to satisfy our needs, but we don’t reach for it as readily in the colder months. Water will not only keep you hydrated and help prevent dry skin and chapped lips but also reduce your caloric intake. Reaching for a glass of water when you feel hungry helps you determine whether you’re really hungry or just in need of hydration.

Before heading out to any holiday get-together, fill up. Enjoy a small, nutritious meal comprising lean prtoein, complex carbs, and veggies. You’ll have energy to enjoy the party, and feeling full will help you avoid some of the pitfalls of the buffet table—often high-calorie and high-sugar treats in the form of dips, chips, and cookies.

Avoiding weight gain and staying active during the winter months can be a challenge, but it’s possible. With some planning, commitment, and consistency, you can get through the long winter and be healthier, happier, and physically fit for the fun outside activities when spring finally arrives.
You can find Bill at Market Fitness. His own personal training business is called Life Is Movement Fitness, and he can be reached at [email protected] and (802) 310-1569.
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