Love to exercise but find the colder weather off-putting? Don’t worry, us too. So we asked Doctors Folusha Oluwajana and Sarah Davies to explain why our workout habits change with the seasons, and what we can do to keep ourselves motivated.
Exercise has been something of a godsend this year. With coronavirus restrictions having limited the places we can go and the people we can see, many turned to daily walks, home workouts and, more recently, to their recently reopened gyms to fill their time and channel their energy.
But now the clocks have gone back, meaning shorter days and darker evenings, and there is a definite chill in the air. For a lot of people, this seasonal transition very often marks a change in motivation, with warm cosy living rooms being far preferable to a rainy run or a venture out to the gym.
“Many of us find that in the colder, wetter months, our motivation to do many things is negatively impacted, including exercise”, explains fitness trainer Dr Folusha Oluwajana. But there are a variety of benefits to staying on top of your workout routine when the weather takes a turn, and a number of things you can do to keep yourself going as winter approaches.
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How does the change in weather affect our workout motivation?
It’s pretty well-documented that cold weather and darker days can affect your mood. In fact, according to research conducted by The Weather Channel and YouGov, almost a third of people in the UK suffer from a degree of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which can cause low mood, poor sleep and problems concentrating, among other things. “If you’re feeling down”, says Dr Oluwajana, “getting up to work out may feel like a mental challenge”.
In addition to the mental blocks you may experience as the seasons change, the colder weather also has an effect on our bodies. According to Dr Sarah Davies from Panacea Health, “our muscles and tendons often tighten up in the cold”, meaning that “we are likely to feel joint pains more acutely as a result, which can be disincentivising to being physically active”.
What are the benefits of exercising during the colder months?
It’s true that “exercise outside is usually not as fun if it’s cold and raining”, says Dr Oluwajana. But regardless, “it does have some unique benefits”. As Dr Davies goes on to explain, we benefit from being outdoors during the winter because it gives us a vitamin D boost, “despite the apparently lower levels of sunlight”.
“We make the hormone vitamin D in our bodies through sunlight exposure of any intensity”, Dr Davies says. So, although we may be more inclined to soak up the sun when it’s warm out, we can still reap its benefits during the colder months. In fact, it may even be more important to do so, since “vitamin D deficiency is more common in winter”, according to Dr Oluwajana.
The benefits of increased vitamin D production include “increased energy levels, supporting your immune system, and maintaining strong, healthy bones”, says Dr Oluwajana. In addition, Dr Davies explains that “there is evidence that vitamin Dalso benefits our mental health”. Coupled with the endorphin kick working out gives you, getting out in the cold weather to exercise could be just the thing you need to stave off your seasonal low mood.
What are some top tips for maintaining a good exercise routine as the seasons change?
It’s one thing to know that exercising in the colder weather is a good thing, and another to actually want to do it. Thankfully, though, there are things you can do to keep yourself motivated. Dr Oluwajana recommends adjusting your workout schedule to ensure you stick to it. She suggests, for example, “rescheduling your run to lunchtime if you don’t want to run during the dark mornings”, or “switching to home workouts if getting to the gym is unappealing”.
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Keeping warm should also be a top priority – which Dr Oluwajana says comes with the added bonus that “getting yourself some new, warm workout gear could help motivate you to exercise outside during winter”. There are specific exercises you can do, too, that are particularly good at keeping your body temperature up. As Dr Davies explains, “exercising the large muscle groups in the legs with squats, lunges and deadlifts will keep you warm during the winter months”.
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