8 Smart Ways to Stay Active This Winter

Here in Ohio, we're lucky enough to have four seasons. (Okay, so it seems luckier in some months than others.) Most of the year, the weather lends itself to a pleasant walk or run around the neighborhood, a ride along the bike path or a hike through a favorite network of trails. But then there's that pocket of time, typically between Christmas and Easter, when cold, snow and ice threaten to bring our well-intentioned resolutions to a screeching—or freezing—halt.

If you also live in a locale where Old Man Winter makes an annual appearance, you've probably noticed that your motivation to move tends to plummet right along with the temperatures. When the weather outside is frightful, the fire (and the couch, and Netflix, and hot cocoa…) seems ever more delightful, especially when compared to bundling up and striking out on the snowy sidewalk (or starting up the cold car and driving to the gym).

But that doesn't mean you should put your goals on ice and hibernate until the first thaw. Working out in winter not only keeps you on track toward your fitness objectives, but it can also help to give the immune system a boost during cold and flu season. With some smart strategies and creativity, you can stay active all winter long and start spring feeling stronger than ever.

Embrace the cold.

While your first instinct when stepping into the cold might be "get me back inside," strength and conditioning specialist Brandon Mentore advises his clients to learn to embrace the cold instead of avoiding it. As long as you're dressed warm enough to be safe, Mentore says that working out in the elements can have multiple benefits beyond just burning calories.

"Exposing your body to colder temperatures activates multiple systems in your body, including your metabolism ramping up to generate body heat as a response," he explains. "When you layer a workout on top of that, you have twice the thermal challenge, which pushes your body's immune system, stress response and musculoskeletal system."

Mentore adds that the cold also helps to condition the thyroid, which regulates body temperature, and that breathing cold, dry air could also improve lung capacity and capability.

Stay active during daylight hours.

If anything brings motivation to a standstill faster than a cold day, it's a cold, dark night. Dr. Raj Gupta of Soul Focus points out that people tend to get lethargic when the sun goes down, putting that 7 p.m. yoga class in to jeopardy. "It's best to stay active when the sun is still out, so you'll be less likely to skip a workout and can remain active throughout those cold months," he says. Another perk of exercising in the sunshine is that you'll get an extra dose of vitamin D, which studies have shown can help to boost mood and alleviate depressive symptoms, along with a host of other health benefits.

Go out and play!

If you can't seem to muster the energy for an "official" exercise session, bundle up and head outside to play instead. You'll still burn calories, get your heart rate up and incorporate your muscles, but it will feel more like fun than a workout.

Enjoy the winter wonderland by making snow angels (about 214 calories burned per hour on average), having a snowball fight (about 319 calories burned), going sled-riding (about 400 calories) or even building a snowman (about 285 calories). No snow in your area? Try ice skating—an activity you can do inside or out to burn more than 450 calories per hour.

Remember to follow these recommended safety tips when venturing out into bitter-cold temps.

Walk the mall.

While mall walking is a common suggestion for staying active during winter, fitness trainer Catherine Basu of Fit Armadillo points out that it can have a greater benefit than all of that calorie-burning cardio. She suggests walking your local mall to find out about other free fitness events happening there.

"Athletic apparel stores like Lululemon and Lorna Jane often host free classes by certified instructors in their stores before opening," she says. "These can be a great way to try out local instructors and mix up your routine without having to financially commit to the studio first. Attending these classes can also get you a discount on fitness gear and help you make new friends who will help you stay motivated."

And if you're thinking of starting a running routine in the new year, Basu points out that most specialty running shoe stores host weekly runs. In addition to getting to enjoy the camaraderie of the running group and motivation to get out the door, you may also be able to sign up for informational sessions with nutritionists and running coaches at these stores.

Try a hot yoga class.

When the cold weather has you feeling sluggish, sad or just plain unmotivated, fitness trainer Jill Brown suggests seeking out some heat—in the form of hot yoga. She loves these classes as a way to stay active and flexible during the winter months.

If you've never tried hot yoga before, be forewarned that they're not easy. "Even though they only do a handful of postures, holding the poses in the heat is exhausting, but so refreshing at the end," Brown says.

In addition to burning calories and increasing strength and flexibility, hot yoga can help to reduce stress and boost metabolism. Just be sure to check with your doctor first, stay hydrated and don't push yourself too far, too fast. And if you're a beginner, it might be best to start with a few regular (non-heated) yoga classes before cranking up the heat.

Try an indoor sport.

You don't have to be an accomplished athlete—or even an amateur one—to enjoy the mental and physical benefits of indoor sports. There are plenty of athletic activities that take place outside of the elements, including volleyball, basketball, swimming and racquetball. After you've brushed up on the basics, Gupta points out that you could take it a step further by joining an existing team or getting your own team together and playing in a recreational league, as a commitment to staying active and accountable.

Volunteer in active ways.

The months after the holidays are a great time to help local people and communities in need. Look for volunteer opportunities that involve physical activity, such as working at a shelter or soup kitchen, gathering trash and litter, packing and shipping boxes for donation or shoveling snow or walking dogs for elderly residents. Check the National & Community Service website to find out how you can combine goal-setting with goodwill.

Work out at home.

Let's face it, there will be times when inclement weather will make it impossible to exercise outdoors, or even drive to the gym. But snowy weather shouldn't be an excuse to miss your workouts. Exercising at home can be a convenient (and fun!) way to stay on track while staying out of the elements.

Even if you don't have a home gym, you can still get a full-body workout with no equipment other than a towel. "Balance Guy" Shane McLean recommends trying the following bodyweight routine to stay active in the warmth and comfort of home.

McLean suggests trying this quick bodyweight routine:

  • Bodyweight squat (10 reps)
  • Incline pushup (5 reps)
  • Jumping jacks (20 reps)
Repeat all three exercises for a total of two circuits.

Concentric Body Weight Training
  • Triple extensions (30 seconds)
  • Incline plyo pushups (6-12 reps)
  • Towel row (30 seconds)
  • Single-leg hip extensions (8-12 reps on each leg)
Repeat these exercises for a total of four circuits. Rest as little as possible between exercises and rest for one minute at the end of each circuit.

Although it's tempting to stay snuggled up in your warm bed, colder weather shouldn't be an excuse to let your fitness goals hibernate. With the right attitude and mix of exercises, the winter months can actually be a fantastic time to mix up your workouts, reignite your love of fitness and keep the winter blues at bay. And if you're exercising outdoors, be sure to keep these cold-weather safety tips in mind.