I lived in Seattle for six years and can tell you from personal experience that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is REAL. Even here in California, many of us feel a little down on rainy days. Fortunately for our depression (but unfortunately for our water supply), the rain here does not usually last more than a handful of days, so we do not spend much time thinking about it. Nevertheless, the effect the winter has on our psyche is real, and it affects us whether we realize it or not. And one of the best ways to combat this and perk yourself up during the winter months is to go outside and getting moving.
You may be thinking to yourself, but why would I go outside if it’s cold, rainy, snowy, etc? It can admittedly feel punishing, but training in winter can be extremely beneficial both physically and mentally. Studies show that exercising in cold weather can increase the body’s metabolism and fat-burning ability. Getting into nature at any time of year lowers your risk for depression and increases your intake of vitamin D.
Many of us are also facing more COVID restrictions this winter making finding a way to reduce stress and enjoy ourselves in unique ways even more important. Here are 5 tips for winterizing your workout:
- Choose an activity you actually enjoy. You get extra bonus points if it can only be done during the winter such as skiing or shoe-shoeing, because that will make it even more fun to get out during the winter. But cycling, hiking, running and walking in the winter can also be very rewarding.
- Get the right gear. If it is cold or rainy where you live, check out my blog post on layering your clothing to keep yourself warm and dry. In Scandinavian countries, parents encourage their children to go outside and play during the winter by reminding them that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
- Protect your head, hands, and toes. Most of your body heat is stored in your core to protect your vital organs. This makes your extremities vulnerable to cold. Wearing a cloth mask over your nose and mouth or pulling a neck warmer up over your nose not only prevents the spread of the coronavirus, it keeps your face warm. I’ve been wearing my neck warmer this way in the winter long before COVID! Covering your nose and mouth also warms the air you exhale and breathe in which will make heavy breathing in cold temperatures more comfortable.
- Be extra diligent warming up. Muscles contract in cold weather, making them stiffer and less flexible. Before you start your workout, make sure to warm up dynamically. A dynamic warm-up incorporates active stretching movements, rather than static movements, which are helpful post-workout. Here is an example of a dynamic warm-up you might want to try.
- Pace yourself. Many people start out too fast. It is better to hold back in the beginning so you can warm up and pick up the pace as you go, rather than burning yourself out too quickly. You may find that working out in the winter seems to take more energy than the same activity would in other seasons because not only is your body focusing on fueling the activity, it is also expending energy on keeping you warm. As a result, it may feel more intense, so give yourself some grace. Simply getting outside and moving can be a decent workout at first, so be sure to listen to your body and take it slowly at first. As your body gets used to its new environment, you will then be able to pick up the pace.
Getting outside during the winter can be extremely rewarding both physically and mentally. I encourage you to give it a try. It might seem daunting at first, but try it…you might like it!