Now that the sun is going down so much earlier, the nights are a lot longer than then used to be. Not to mention the cold, crisp weather: biting winds, icy rain, and an overall gloominess. Although it’s segueing into the most wonderful time of the year, you already know what’s not so wonderful about it — your fitness routine. Shorter days make it difficult to stay motivated, especially if you live in a climate with ridiculously long winters. Learn how to stay on track with your personal fitness by following some of our tips.
Look to the Community
You might be surprised at the multitude of free and low-priced fitness activities that are available in your own backyard. If you aren’t sure where to begin, contact your city’s community center. Not only it is not uncommon to find fitness classes like yoga and martial arts taught at the center itself, but your friendly community volunteers can tell you how to access things like:
- Sports teams. This doesn’t only mean T-ball and peewee football, but also teams for grownups like soccer and archery. See if your city has any community sports teams that play year-round, or what is currently available. It’s especially helpful if it’s a sport you actually enjoy playing, so ask yourself which are your favorites.
- Clubs. Again, this doesn’t mean Brownies and Cub Scouts alone; there are fitness clubs that adults can become members of as well. These might include jogging teams, hiking organizations, or kayakers who love year-round paddling. Again, ask yourself what interests you and which clubs you would enjoy the most.
- Outside Resources. If nothing is happening within the community center itself, you might be given information about nearby fitness events. Perhaps another city is doing a run for charity, for example, or the next county over has a roller derby team. Look at other communities beyond your own.
Join a Gym
Yeah, yeah, we know: Everyone claims that they will go to the gym all the time once they join. We’ve all seen that episode of Friends when Chandler and Ross are too intimidated to go but are too intimidated to quit. Make yourself the exception. If fitness is really important to you, you will make it happen. It’s a scary truth that two out of three adults don’t get the recommended amount of exercise per day.
Gyms are a great resource for people who want more options than simply hitting the pavement jogging. Sure, gyms have running equipment like treadmills and ellipticals, but they also have weightlifting equipment, fitness balls, and other specialty items that can help your progress.
One major concern that people seem to have about gyms is their own self-consciousness; surely everyone is staring, right?!?! Don’t be so sure; think about it, would you be staring at everyone else while trying to focus on your own workout? Didn’t think so. Rest assured — nobody is paying a lick of attention to you. Besides that, nobody knows that you’re nervous but you! Project confidence and the world will be none the wiser. Pop in your wearable electronics, jam to Queen, and do your thing. You are the champion, my friend!
Make It a Family Affair
It’s so much easier to do something hard when you’ve got a support system behind you. Some people prefer more structure, needing to be held accountable when it comes to fitness. If you’re one of those people, get your family involved. Bring your partner to the gym with you, or take the kids jogging in the stroller. Beyond those obvious activities, some fantastic winter-friendly indoor activities for the whole family include:
- An indoor obstacle course. This can be as simple as a relay race, dashing back and forth and timing each other picking up objects. If you want something a little more elaborate, setup can be another family affair. Be creative and use things like pool noodles as guides, obstacles like tying on a sheet for a cape, and running up and down the stairs three times. Remember, parents, that this is also a great way to trick kids into burning off excess energy at the end of the day…just putting that out there…
- Dance. If it helps, go to YouTube and pull up some instructional dance videos, or go full-on hog wild and just pump up the volume. A fun variation is freeze dancing, which is a bit like musical chairs: Turn on the music, have everyone dance, then pause the music and have everyone freeze. Anyone who moves during the pause is out. Although this can lead to squabbles from time to time, it’s harmless (albeit competitive) fun.
One weird trick for anyone who spends a lot of time around elementary-school-aged children is the invisible “points” system. Anytime you see the kiddo doing something positive, they get “points.” “Max, you cleared the table without me asking! Six points! Whoa, Lulu, you helped your friend with her homework! Nine points!” What do these points add up to? Well, that’s the beauty of it: Nothing. They are absolutely invisible and serve no purpose beyond the kids thinking they do. (Cue Drew Carey.)
And boy do kids keep count. Even if you mindlessly toss out points during the day without any sense of quantity, you bet the kids are keeping track. Even if the “prize” is as simple as being that day’s points winner, it’s an awesome hack. Seriously, try it. Dare you.
On another note, do you know who absolutely loves playing and working out with you? Your dog. Your best friend is already a little ball of energy, so borrow some of it and make him part of your daily fitness. Take your good boy jogging or running with you (but don’t forget to bring him water). Dogs love running and will be more eager to move than you are, so you’re forced to keep moving. It’s a love-hate thing, but once you get home and both you and the dog are ready for a nap, it’s been a good hard workout.
Take Care of Yourself
Regardless of the kind of fitness you’ve started doing, your body is going to be shocked at the changes at first. Don’t be startled if you suddenly have a more difficult time climbing the stairs after leg day, or your arms feel ready to fall off when you put up your hair after lifting. Any new physical routine will be an adjustment, which is why taking care of yourself before and after a workout is so important.
Stretching and prepping for your workout before and after is a fantastic idea; think of it as defrosting a pizza before putting it in the oven. Cold, unwarmed muscles will be stiff and unready to move, just like the pizza dough will be firm and unwieldy. Look up proper stretches for your corresponding exercises to avoid sports injuries.
If you’re sore after a workout, take a hot bath soaking in Epsom salts. These little chunks of sodium are also loaded with magnesium, which helps to soothe sore muscles and help you to feel better faster. Look also at products like Icy-Hot and Tiger Balm; natural ingredients like clove and oregano essential oils help to numb pain while using cooling menthol to ice it away. After a bath, give yourself a firm muscle rub with your choice of product and the effects are almost instantaneous.
A super luxury might be getting a weekly or bi-weekly massage. Check your health insurance plan to see if sports massages are included; some packages do cover them, proving that massages are both a self-treatment splurge and that they’re good for your health.
Use the Resources at Home
Fitness doesn’t have to start at a gym with expensive equipment — your home is just the right place to begin a fitness routine. Even if the winter weather makes you feel drowsy and unmotivated, actually making use of your home-based resources is a great way to help you recharge.
If you’re one of the lucky people with one of those snazzy in ground pools, you can use it all winter long if you have an electric heater or some kind of heating mechanism available to you. These are quick and easy to install — and pay for themselves almost immediately if you start swimming every day. Swimming is an excellent full-body workout, benefitting not only your arms and legs, but also:
- Your cardiovascular system. Constant movement and treading water is a fantastic way to keep your blood flowing and getting your heart good and worked out.
- Your gastrointestinal tract. Despite what you might think, swimming is actually proven to relieve some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) like cramping and diarrhea. Some patients have reported feeling relief from their symptoms after swimming.
- Your muscles. Your entire body is used when you swim: Biceps, glutes, ankles, forearms, abdomen, etc. Think about how much force it takes to push your full body weight against the water, as well as pulling yourself forward using nothing but your own motion. All of your muscles are being worked, which again helps with blood flow, circulation, and a healthy heart.
The global lockdown forced people to be creative in terms of fitness, but this is not a bad thing. It only meant that some people found solid at-home workarounds to keep up their routine. Some clever at-home workout ideas that you can borrow include:
- Digital fitness classes. Whether these are via Zoom or another platform, it’s a great way to do a group exercise while social distancing. You get the support of a trainer and other participants, but you don’t have to leave your home.
- Running up and down the stairs. Your staircase is an awesome tool for helping you to get your exercise, whether you run or jog up and down a set number of times or simply walk in a loop. The up-and-down momentum is good for your heart, and it’s also a way to heat up on an especially cold winter day. Don’t forget to wear slip-proof shoes and watch your step. Bonus: Your dog also loves running up and down the stairs, so use his ball to wear him out too when you’re done!
- This is going to sound strange, but hear us out: Prison workouts. Go to YouTube and look up workouts that people who are in prison will do. This might be a plan like 30 jumping jacks, 10 sit-ups, etc, but these workouts are surprisingly difficult. It’s easy to see how people come out on the other side so much more toned and muscular!
Mama always told you to eat your fruits and veggies, but even as a grownup it isn’t always easy. Eating properly is no small task, but you can make it easier on yourself by following a few of these simple tips:
- Use meal preparation techniques. You’ve likely heard of this, but if you aren’t exactly sure, the premise is simple: Go grocery shopping for a week’s worth of meals. Spend an afternoon (likely a weekend) chopping and prepping your meals, and putting them into gallon-sized Ziplocks to freeze until you need a quick meal for dinner. This doesn’t just save time over the rest of the week, but it also helps you to plan your meals. Which transitions nicely into our next tip…
- Plan your meals. On any given weekday with the kids arguing, the baby screaming, the dog barking, and your hair proverbially on fire, it’s easy to snap and order a pizza or boil up some hot dogs in a pinch. When you thoughtfully plan your healthier meals and commit to cooking them, you are less likely to take an easy, not-so-healthy route.
- Install a water filter on your tap. If you have a well then your water is likely healthy already, but a well-installed filter can help you get clean water in more urban areas. Water is vital to all humans, and you deserve pure, healthy water (especially when you’re trying to hydrate post-workout).
Fitness is always important, but during the winter it’s easy to fall out of routine. Develop a solid plan for taking care of yourself and your family’s personal fitness so that everybody (including your doggo and kids) can stay healthy all winter long.