How does daylight affect our workouts? We get an extra hour of sleep, and the sunlight comes earlier, but does it give us more energy? In my 30 years in the fitness industry, my experience says no. And so does the research. Less daylight during the winter months may encourage more sedentary living and actually contribute to the growing problem of obesity, according to an essay published in October, 2010 in the British Medical Journal.
With the onset of winter, many of us seem to follow the animal kingdom. We lose our motivation, hibernate in front of our televisions and stay there until spring. The problem is, as we slow down, our stress level doesn’t. We continue working, raising children, maintaining our homes and relationships, and eating the way we do when we’re more active. But we’re not being active enough to burn off the stress or the calories. So how can we stay inspired and continue our workouts during the winter?
In my experience, lack of motivation leads to feelings of depression and guilt about not being more motivated. We see that ambitious person running down our street and wish we could be more motivated like them. But here’s the catch 22. When we motivate ourselves to get up and do something active, it gives us the energy and motivation we were looking for.
Think of it this way: do you ever feel like cleaning your house? Do you ever really feel like balancing your checkbook, or tackling your inbox? Probably not. You do it because there will be immediate repercussions if you don’t. Your health is no less important than a clean sink or that email from a friend. And the feeling when you’re finished is way better than the fleeting feeling you get when you see your floor clean for a moment.
So, as the days get shorter and colder in Utah, how do we transition from outdoor summer and fall activities into winter workouts? Here are some suggestions that may help you find the motivation to move during the winter:
Shift to a gym.
- Indoor cycling is great off-season training for outdoor cyclists. Riding indoors, without the obstacles of the road and traffic allows you to recover from a tough riding season, build a new base and improve technique.
- Running or walking on a treadmill is a great way to burn calories while watching Oprah or listening to a motivational audio book. Try this one for starters: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
- Group Fitness Classes provide a social element, and allow you to feed off the energy of others. There are so many options available now, you could spend the next month trying new formats and end up finding something you love. My suggestions: Zumba (latin dance), Boot Camp, Strength Training and Yoga. Mix it up and enjoy!
Set up a Buddy System.
- Ask anyone who has successfully lost weight with Weight Watchers…accountability is everything. If you allow yourself to be accountable to someone else you are much more likely to succeed at staying on track with your goal. Arrange to meet a friend at the gym or for a morning walk. If you don’t show up, give them permission to call and wake you up!
- Start a fitness club at your church or your kids school. Find a handful of people and pick a time of day to get together. Each of you can take one day a week to choose the workout, whether it’s a DVD or something more creative. Invite the kids to join in!
Be a “HomeBody”
- A good quality piece of home exercise equipment is the best insurance policy against laziness. It’s always there, rain or shine. Get a treadmill with a reading rack for your favorite book, or set it up in front of a TV. My suggestion: The NordicTrack Incline Trainer that simulates hiking!
- DVDs. Bring any workout to your living room. Some of the new favorites are Tony Horton’s P90X and Shaun Ts “Insanity”, but you may want to start with something easier and work up to those. Stop by your local library and check out a few to try them out. If you find something you enjoy, stick with it.
Enjoy the beauty of Winter while we have it.
- Invest in a pair of snow shoes. All of the hiking trails you loved in the summer and fall are perfect for snowshoeing. It’s great exercise and so nice to get up above the inversion.
- I always wonder why people who hate winter live in Utah. We have world-class skiing and snowboarding, and for less money and more calorie burn, cross-country ski trails abound. Maybe this is your year to take that lesson you’ve been promising to take.
- Walking, the good old standby. For most days of the year, the roads are dry and with the right clothing, walking is the perfect choice for a workout. Dress in layered clothing and wear shoes that have good tread in case you should encounter some slippery ground. Enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, and the sound our your own breath.
Bottom line, our bodies need to move. We are healthiest, and happiest when we are active and at a healthy weight. With earlier daylight, it makes sense to get your workout done in the morning. Early morning exercisers are the most consistent and seem to stay committed longer than evening exercisers. But whatever time of day you choose to exercise, don’t succomb to the sofa this year. Get a T shirt with the NIKE logo on it and ‘just do it’!