Once the nights start to draw in, it can feel desirable to cuddle up in your pyjamas and watch the TV all night, can’t it? Especially if your working commitments mean you can only exercise pre-sunrise or post-sunset. If the thought of exercising in the dark puts you off, there are a few things that can help to keep you motivated.
Why Is Winter Exercise Important?
Our activity level drops in general during winter. Not just the amount of time we spend intentionally exercising - which drops to 8 minutes a day on average. But that also includes walking around less, and even doing less housework! We opt for more time sitting and more time asleep.
There are a lot of explanations for why we lose our enthusiasm for exercise in winter. The shorter days and lower levels of light during the day means we get less Vitamin D, and that can make us feel sluggish. Low mood due to low energy levels or seasonal affective disorders can contribute to feelings of exercise apathy. While exercise is fundamental to our physical health all year round, it undeniably feels less attractive in winter.
But during the winter months, exercise can, in some ways, be even more critical than at other times of the year. The effect of exercise on mental health and emotional well being can go some way to counter the negative impact of shorter days and long, cold nights.
Exercise can help to regulate body weight and reduces the number of chronic health problems associated with conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and strokes. It can even boost your immune system - which is fantastic when those winter sniffles come to visit.
Physical activity gives us energy and makes us feel optimistic and positive, which in turn elevates self-esteem and helps us manage stress. Although outdoor exercise can be a little more uncomfortable in the winter, the time spent in nature - such as in blue coastal and green spaces with trees and plants have therapeutic benefits, particularly in young people.
The NHS recommends 150 minutes of intentional exercise each week, which is just 30 minutes across 5 days a week. This could be a brisk outdoor walk in your lunch hour to break up your working day. Maybe you’d prefer a long jog in the park at the weekends - but finding a way to make it enjoyable for yourself and in line with your goals will be essential.
How To Enjoy Winter Exercise
If you’re exercising indoors at a gym, winter won’t make that much difference. You’ll have to talk yourself into getting there when it’s dark. But if you’re more of an outdoor exerciser, the main thing during winter will be your comfort and safety. Layering up with base layers, leggings and waterproof clothing are vital if you’re going to be outside for a while. But don’t neglect your hands and feet - warm socks and gloves make a big difference to your comfort level, and bright, ideally reflective clothing can help if you’re exercising at night.
Research by the Queensland University of Technology found that reflective strips added to clothing on the joints that bend (elbows, knees) are highly effective in preventing collision accidents with vehicles at night. If you’re taking your training session off-road, consider a head torch and always tell someone where you’re going and what time you’re planning to be back. There is a wide range of apps to help you to plan a route before setting off safely.
If safety feels like a concern where you live, consider exercising with a partner and trust your instinct. If you feel unsafe, there’s nothing wrong with leaving your urban night run for another day and heading to the gym instead. However, people who are proponents of nighttime exercise love it and claim it’s like stepping into another world. They find that focusing on the narrow pool of light afforded them by their head torch to be meditative, and entering the domain of nocturnal animals to be an exhilarating way to exercise.
Like exercise at ay time of the year, it can take some time to make it a habit. But finding a way of exercising that you like, that fits in with your goals and your lifestyle can really help to make that move into winter exercise feel a little easier. You don’t have to force yourself out in torrential rain and storms; exercise is meant to be an enjoyable part of your life all year round - including winter.
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