Motivation flagging? Live too far from a gym? No room in the house for exercise equipment? Not enough light before or after work? Feeling sluggish?
A lot of people abandon regular exercise during the winter. If that describes you, I know you have a slew of excuses, because I’ve used most of ‘em myself.
But even the best excuses ignore the cardinal law of physical fitness: Use it or lose it. You only get the fitness you earn today. You can’t store it up until the weather improves and the days get longer.
By the time the forsythia blooms, your sedentary body will have lost a lot of ground. It will take weeks or months of diligent work to get back to the fitness level (and its corresponding physical and psychological health benefits) you had when you laid off around Thanksgiving.
Just get going.
To improve traction, balance, and the quality of winter walking, invest in some good quality trekking poles. Get the adjustable kind with spring-loaded shock absorption, and you can use them for snowshoeing and summer hiking, too.
Yaktrax or other pull-on "grippers" can improve your confidence when conditions are icy. Not enough light after work? Take to a well-lit parking lot, streets with streetlights. Turn on the outside light and walk up and down your own driveway. If you have a mall nearby, walk there. Better yet, walk outdoors around the entire mall a few times.
Walk (or run) the stairs
If you have stairs in your home and the knees for it, pump up the volume on your MP3 player or radio and hit the stairs. Don’t overdo these workouts; work up by going slowly and starting with only a few repetitions.
I keep my freezer and refrigerator in the basement and my computer workstation in a third-story attic. Besides keeping my leg muscle strong, this arrangement allows me to burn 11 pounds’ worth of calories each year just going about my daily activities.
Jumping rope isn’t just for kids. If you can work up to it, 15 minutes a day will give you the fitness benefits of half an hour of running or a 1000-yard swim. All you need is a rop[e and comfortable shoes. If your home has high ceilings, you can jump indoors. Other locations: a porch, garage, driveway, parking lot or other paved surface.
Strap on the snowshoes
I consider the snowshoes and poles we bought 12 years ago a major health investment. We’ve used them often all winter long ever since.
Snowshoes allow you to walk on water (or at least float on snow). If you can walk, you can snowshoe, especially in today’s lightweight, easy-on-easy-off models. This is the best time of year to buy new and used snowshoes. If you can, invest in a pair of trekking poles, too. They improve balance and stability, offer work for your upper body, and increase the workout intensity (building muscle, burning more calories).
Find a partner
Nothing helps maintain your motivation to exercise like finding a partner as committed to his/her health and well being as you. A good walking/running/indoor biking partner makes the time fly and helps you forget your discomfort.
You don’t have to share the same political views or travel in the same social circles.The only requirements for a training partner/fitness buddy: 1. someone about the same fitness level as you, and 2. someone who’ll always shows up.
One to remember
But sometimes you have no choice but to go it alone.
My most memorable winter workout took place early one evening during a blizzard—a total whiteout with fierce winds. More than a foot of snow had already fallen, and it was accumulating a couple of inches per hour.
I pulled on my heaviest winter duds, turned on the outside light, and tramped around and around our circular driveway.
Whiteout conditions, where the snow seems to fall and swirl from all directions, confuse spatial perception to the point where it becomes difficult to tell up from down. To orient myself, I followed my footsteps, finding them almost totally obscured by the time I came around again.
I lost track of time in that other-worldly environment, stopping only when the power went out and I lost my light. Though I wouldn’t be able to recreate this event, I won’t forget it or the utter rapture of it.
My point? When it comes to exercise, seize the moment!
No time? 10-Minute Workouts
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.