How to Maintain Your Winter Workouts

As the seasons change and the days get shorter and colder, the motivation to exercise can wane.The dark skies before and after work are often intimidating, especially for individuals who exercise outside. But even for those who hit the gym, the idea of trekking there and back in the dark is often enough to skip a workout.

There is scientific evidence that your metabolism may be biologically programmed to slow down in winter months; fat is great insulation against the cold. Serotonin levels also dip in the winter, leaving you with less energy and craving carbohydrates (which provide a quick burst of serotonin).

This lack of exercise, combined with food cravings, can have serious consequences. According to a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, American adults gained an average of one pound from September to late March. One pound may seem insignificant, but the study also showed the weight never came off; over many years, this added up to significant weight gain. Reminding yourself of this may be enough to get you moving when you'd rather curl up on the couch or hit the snooze button "just one more time."

Despite the biological and environmental pressure to stay inside, eat, and lounge, it is possible to stay fit through the colder months. By adjusting your workout routine to accommodate the season, you may actually benefit long term by finding new activities that add variety to your routine and increase your fitness level in new ways.

If you love to exercise outdoors, cold and darkness don't have to be deterrents. Get a specific cold weather exercise outfit with layers that can be easily taken on and off as your body temperature changes. Quality reflective clothing will ensure you're seen by cars.

Finding a workout partner who also loves outdoor exercise will keep you accountable and offer a safeguard if you get injured or lost. Knowing that you'll be warm and safe during exercise can be enough motivation to get out of bed and get outside.  

Alternatively, you may want to move your workouts indoors. If you have difficulty leaving the house in the dark and cold for the gym, consider working out at home. Use the time to put on a DVD and try a new form of exercise. There are DVDs for everything, from yoga and dance to martial arts and strength training. Pick something you've wanted to try but haven't made time to do. Cross training with new activities throughout the winter will strengthen muscles your normal activities don't, leaving your body stronger and more balanced when resuming your normal routine.

If you truly cannot get motivated in the dark, try to change your workout schedule to exercise midday. Walking, jogging, yoga and body weight exercises are all easily transferable and require little equipment, meaning they can be done in or around the office. Or join a gym that is conveniently located to your work,  so you can fit in a workout and shower before returning to work. A bonus of working out in the middle of the day is increased energy for the afternoon, a time of day where we are typically sluggish.

Accept that your activity level may look different in the colder months than in spring and summer. Some activities are not as easily undertaken, the holidays may interfere, and energy may be low. Incorporate activity wherever you can—taking the stairs, walking while you talk on the phone, lunges or squats while making dinner—if you can't fit in a full workout. If you can maintain your level of fitness, you'll be ready to take on your normal activities again when the days get longer and warmer!

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