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How to stay active in winter: 11 winter workout tips for exercising in cold weather

Exercise psychologists share their favorite tips on how to winter-proof your workout.
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/ Source: TODAY
By A. Pawlowski

Even the most dedicated exercise enthusiast can have a hard time in winter.

Cold days and long nights make it hard to get out of bed, let alone get the body moving, but there are simple ways to get motivated when the weather outside is frightful.

The season can indeed be very disruptive to people’s exercise routines, said Jack Raglin, an exercise psychologist and professor at Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington.

“You can look at large-scale studies and you see this sort of wave effect where physical activity levels start to decrease as temperature goes down,” Raglin told TODAY.

“Light is also a factor," he added. "If people live in an area where they come home and it’s already dark, that can be a physical barrier to exercise and a de-motivation.”

The goal is to remove as many obstacles as possible and make small changes that can make staying active easier until spring returns. At this time of year, exercise can also help to cope with seasonal depression.

Here are 11 tips on how to winter-proof your workout:

1. Seek out an exercise partner or group

When exercising alone, there is only one person you have to convince to skip a session. But by exercising with a partner or group, there’s some social pressure:

“I have to show up because they’re there, waiting for me,” Raglin said.

Exercise partners can also provide social support, camaraderie and distraction from bad weather. There’s the additional benefit of making friends and hanging out with like-minded people, he added.

2. Enlist the thermostat in your cause

If the schedule calls for early workouts, program the thermostat in the morning to ensure a cozy atmosphere for waking up and place workout clothes near a heater so they’re “nice and warm,” suggested Lauren Rosella, a personal trainer at UNC REX Healthcare in Raleigh, North Carolina.

3. Make it a goal just to get to the gym

Just focus on getting dressed and showing up at the health club, nothing else. Then, it's OK to do an abbreviated workout or leave after a few minutes. (Most people don’t.)

“Once you’re there, the problem is solved. You’re kind of committed to it,” Raglin said. “Once you’ve changed into your gear, once you’ve made the initial step, the rest of it is a lot easier.”

4. Exercise during your lunch break

Many people get frustrated when it’s dark in the morning and dark when they come home from work. The solution is to work out in the middle of the day, during the peak light hours.

If there’s no convenient gym nearby, take a long, brisk walk during lunch hour — this provides the added benefit of fresh air and a bit of nature. If there’s too much snow in the way, head to a nearby mall or shopping center for an indoor stroll.

5. Focus on the mental health benefits

Many people who start exercising get frustrated when they don’t lose weight or feel fit right away. But those benefits take a while to show up, Raglin noted.

The mental health benefits, on the other hand, happen almost immediately. People feel better, less stressed and more relaxed, which may be especially important during the hectic holiday season and a time when many suffer from seasonal affective disorder.

“Feel good about feeling good," he said, "and feel good about doing something for yourself that we know has so many benefits that so many people need."

6. Plan ahead and anticipate

For outdoor workouts, watch the weather forecast and know what you’ll be up against the next day, whether snow or a cold blast, Raglin advised. Plan the appropriate clothing and have everything ready when for wake up time: gear, gym bag and snack.

“It’s like you’re being helped along, so to speak. That can make a big difference,” he said. “If you know what you’re going to have to experience or endure, it doesn’t bother you as much.”

7. Put on exercise clothes when coming home from work

This simple goal puts people on the right path without much effort, said Brandon Alderman, an exercise psychologist and associate professor in the department of kinesiology and health at Rutgers University.

“The idea behind doing that is you’ve met your goal and it’s probably difficult to take those exercise clothes off without actually doing some form of exercise,” he said.

8. Sleep in exercise clothes

This is a more intense variation of the goal above. The advantage is being ready to go right out of bed in clothes that are warm and already in place.

On the other hand, the ritual of getting into exercise clothes can be energizing, Raglin said.

“Once you start gearing up, you’re getting your head in the game," he said. "It’s like a pre-game ritual. It’s almost like my heart starts beating faster once I begin to do that."

9. Swim in a warm pool

Swimming is one of the best sports for a long and healthy life. A warm indoor pool can be the perfect place for a workout when the weather outside doesn’t cooperate.

10. Optimize the morning alarm

Choose a song that to get out of bed and get the heart beating faster. That’s when the race begins, so don’t hit the snooze button, Raglin cautioned.

“If you’re giving yourself a couple of options to snooze, you’re done a lot of the time,” he noted.

11. Reconsider starting an outdoor exercise program as a New Year’s resolution

“Winter is really a bad time to do it," Raglin said. "But unfortunately, a lot of people start January 1. It’s just a penalty on top of a penalty.”

“People have been overindulging, they feel guilty, they feel like they have to do it and then they’re starting at a time when the environment is kind of conspiring against them.”

It's better to start with baby steps and start somewhere warm.