The winter brings nostalgic memories of fires, hot cocoa and holiday cheer. But those temperatures can certainly also decrease the motivation to exercise. Darkness by the late afternoon compounded with frigid temperatures, makes laying around even more enticing.
Yet, exercise and active lifestyles should be a year-round engagement. Here are the top 5 tips to stay motivated to keep you moving until spring:
- Exercise Outside: While this idea may seem counterintuitive, exercising in the cold can have some benefits to the body. Have you ever wondered how animals who hibernate, like bears, can consume massive quantities of food, but stay thin during hibernation? Well, it is due to a phenomenon known as Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT). Without getting too technical, you have two types of fat in the body, White Adipose Tissue (WAT) and BAT. WAT is the fat tissue that sits on your body, and excess is an indicator of poor health. BAT, on the other hand, is very metabolically active. Essentially, BAT facilitates heat generation at the cellular level to increase energy (Calorie) expenditure. Bears are packed full of BAT, so they can burn all those Calories while they hibernate in the winter. Humans, on the other hand, are born with some BAT (about 5% of body weight), primarily in the armpit and back of the neck region in order to protect against hypothermia. However, human babies tend to lose it within the first few months of life. Recently, research has demonstrated that WAT can convert to BAT, or take on beige/brown characteristics known as Brite, through shivering. Thus, exercising in colder environments may be a beneficial way to activate BAT. While it may not be the most fun to exercise in the cold, it can slightly boost your energy expenditure so it may be worth the trade-off. As a large caveat, this research is still in its infancy and primarily performed in mice/rats. There is still much to be discovered and understood, but it is certainly interesting to potentially be a tool in the toolbox to stave off fat tissue accumulation.
- Hydration: Even though it’s not hot outside, hydration is still important, especially during exercise. There is the classic 8 x 8 rule, which states that you should have 8 cups of 8 fl. Oz of water per day. This guideline is very generalized and does not account for variables that can impact hydration (i.e. salty foods, sweat rate, body composition, etc). Another quick way to calculate how much fluid you should consume is to have 1 mL/Calorie consumed. For example, if you eat 2000 Calories per day, you would theoretically consume 2000 mL or 2 L per day.
The most practical way to ensure you are hydrated is to never be thirsty. Your thirst sensation mechanism is a delayed physiological response. Thus, once you perceive thirst, it is already too late, and dehydration is present. This phenomenon is particularly important for older people who may not drink enough or perceive thirst as well as younger counterparts. Consequently, it does not take much dehydration to see a decrease in performance. Research shows as little as 2% loss in body weight can result in dehydration symptoms such as confusion, dizziness, headache and dry skin. You can also look at the color of your urine in order to gauge your hydration status. Except for the first void of the day, your urine should be generally off-white. The darker the color, the more dehydration you are experiencing.
One can also partition hydration around exercise. Prior to exercise, 2-3 cups should be consumed approximately 2 hours prior to exercise. During exercise, if you are exercising for less than 60-90 mins continuously, water is perfectly fine (about 0.5-1 cup every 15 – 30 mins). If you are continuously exercise > 60-90 mins, then carbohydrates need to be included to avoid a decrease in performance. It is generally recommended to have 60-90g/hour. Post-workout, for every pound that you lose on the scale, you should replace with 16 fl. Oz of fluid.
- Dress Dry & Warm: While this may seem like a no-brainer, wearing layers of warm clothes can help to keep body heat insulated. As you exercise, your internal body temperature rises, and heat begins to dissipate. This may provide a sensation of being hot, however, you are losing heat. You lose the most amount of heat from your head, but also your extremities (i.e. fingers and toes). Wearing gloves can help keep blood circulation flowing and prevent skin from being cracked and dry.
A lesser-known clothing recommendation is to wear ‘dry’ clothing. This type of material typically wicks away moisture and prevents the sweat from sticking to your body. Water is a conductor of heat and moves away from your body, so becoming wet can make you feel freezing and miserable. How do you know if it’s ‘dry’ material? Ditch the cotton which holds in moisture. Opt for material such as polyester or nylon.
- Warming-Up: Think of your muscles as a rubber-band. Elastic and stretchy. Yet, when you first pull on that rubber-band, it is very tight and takes more force to pull it apart. And if you pull that band too hard, it can snap. That is exactly what can happen to your muscles if you do not stretch and warm-up properly. Exercising without a proper warmup has been shown to increase risk for injuries. In the cold weather, the ambient temperature does not facilitate the muscles becoming “warm” so take a few extra minutes to lightly walk/jog before beginning an exercise regimen.
It is also important to wait to stretch until AFTER your workout. Using our rubber-band example, you want to elongate the muscle fibers when they are warm. If you stretch prior to working out, research has shown it is not preventative in terms of injury and can even increase risk for muscle tearing. It is also important to include dynamic stretching, that involves movement such as lunges. Static stretching, such as touching your toes, can further increase that risk for injury by extending the range of motion excessively and does not decrease soreness or promote injury prevention.
- Set Alarms and Accountability: The most challenging part of exercising in the winter is finding the motivation to do the exercise. Everything is against you. Time, temperature, darkness, the list goes on. Yet, showing up is half the battle. Setting an alarm and reminders can build habit and routine. The only person you are accountable for is yourself. Completing an exercise when everyone else chooses not to can be immensely gratifying, self-fulfilling, and an excellent benefit for your physical and mental health. Research has shown that by setting an intentional goal with intrinsic, or internal, motivation, repetition makes it a permanent and automatic behavior. Research has also demonstrated that finding activities that are individually enjoyable provide feelings of competence and autonomy and are thus more likely to strive for their goal.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.