How to stay active in the winter months
Staying active at the best of times is hard, but especially when the weather is wet and cold. Here are five ways to keep moving during the darker months
Life’s unpredictability can make sticking to any physical activity plan challenging at any time of year.
But waking up to pitch-black mornings and the freezing cold snap can make it even harder to stick to that 5k run we promised our self we’d do at 7am. Throw festive parties, school holidays and family visits into the mix and fitness can naturally fall down our list of priorities.
Jonny Kibble, Vitality’s Head of Physical Activity, stresses that staying active over the winter period is still “important”, however.
“Stopping [physical activity] over the winter months can lead to weight gain, decreased mobility and flexibility, lower mood and an increase in joint pain or stiffness (especially when it’s cold),” he explains.
“Keeping on top of your physical activity means you’re in a better place both physically and mentally, as well as battling those nasty cold viruses that go around this time of year.
“It can also ‘use up’ excess adrenaline and cortisol [stress hormones] that could potentially be contributing to an increased level of stress over the winter period”.
But it doesn’t just have to be all HIIT classes and Body Pump during December. Activities such as walking, gardening or indoor sports also bring a breadth of health benefits.
So, if you’re finding it more difficult than usual, here are some simple tips to make keeping active that little bit easier during the darker winter months.
Seek out a partner or group
The key to any successful exercise plan is people, according to one study.
The Centers Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that sticking together boosts motivation and improves exercise consistency.
Having people around us to exercise with is simply more fun as you are sharing an experience with another person, it’s also known to have stress-reducing benefits, too.
Not only does having people around us when we exercise make it more enjoyable, but “endorphins (a feel-good hormone) are released boosting our mood,” Jonny explains.
Trying out team sports or group exercise is a great way to meet new people or try out a new activity, like Netball or Padel, the world’s fastest growing sport. Meanwhile sports like walking football can be more accessible, suited to all ages and fun for all family and friends.
Avoid hitting the snooze button
For morning exercisers, it can be tempting to reach for the snooze button, as the colder, sometimes horribly grim great British weather can put us off.
Almost half (49%) of Brits admit that they struggle to get out of the bed in the winter, a recent survey found.
However, staying in bed for a few extra minutes could affect you later in the day and your sleeping pattern.
According to Houston Methodist, this is because pressing snooze can cause you to oversleep and disrupt your sleep cycle.
Try these before hitting the snooze button:
- Sit up as soon as you wake up
- Move your alarm across the room
- Turn on a light once your alarm goes off
- Look to get a Lumie clock which lights up like a personal sunrise, gently waking you from sleep so that you feel naturally wide awake.
Opt in for indoor activities
On those days where stepping outside is just a hard no, there are a number of things you can do from the comfort of your home or local sports centre.
Get to know your local indoor swimming pool and reap the benefits of reducing stress, anxiety and depression, as well as improving your sleep.
If taking a dip isn’t appealing, you could do some squats while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or get yourself a standing desk if you work at a computer – it all counts towards being active.
The last few years after the pandemic has shifted the way we go about our lives; and the world of online fitness is now more accessible than ever.
There are online classes and group-based activities across the UK that you can get involved in virtually, like on the fitness platform Fiit. Here you can join the Vitality Member group and work out from the comfort of your home, or gym, and access new classes on the app every week.
Keep an eye on the weather
As many as 72% of people said a drop in their activity during winter was due to the colder temperatures, and 57% were put off by the darker mornings and evenings, a recent poll revealed.
Knowing the weather will help you plan your outdoor activities and help you get ready for the week ahead.
This gives you more chance to make sure you have the appropriate clothing or gear ready to enjoy your activity and keep your body warm.
It is very important to stay warm as coldness can put the body’s immune system at risk, making it harder to fight those nasty viruses floating around at this time of year.
Get outside around lunchtime to get the most vitamin D
As the days feel shorter and we spend more time inside, the winter can leave us feeling blue, often referred to as S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
This is where people experience a low mood that affects their everyday life at certain times of the year, the Mind Organisation tells us.
This makes getting outside even more important at this time of year. Even if it’s carrying your shopping bags home, going out on a dog walk, or working out as a group in a park.
"Getting outside in the sun can help boost levels of vitamin D that we lack over the winter,” explains Jonny.
“This not only provides the nutrients to keep your bones and muscles healthy and strong, but also helps you sleep better, therefore improving your mood and reducing the chance of experiencing the winter blues.”
If you are one that struggles during these months, light therapy could be a game-changer.
Also known as phototherapy, light therapy is a treatment where you expose yourself to an artificial light source, such as a light box or lamp.
According to the Mayo Clinic, exposure to this type of light can cause a chemical change in the brain, improving mood and reducing other S.A.D symptoms; including excessive sleep and fatigue, which are prominent during winter.
If you are affected, we recommend getting in touch with your GP or if you are a VitalityHealth member, visit our mental support guide here.
Once you’ve chosen your device, you can link it to your Vitality account through the app and start earning activity points today.
And, did you know that your phone is already tracking your steps. You’re already doing the hard work, so why not get rewarded for it.
So, what are you waiting for? Start earning your points by logging into Member Zone today.
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