Working out is hard. It’s right there in the name: working out, right? And it’s not only the physical act of moving your body (however you like to do it) that’s difficult, it’s also the sticking to it that can be a sticking point for many people. Add to that difficulty the craziness of this time of year, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for falling off the workout wagon. But never fear! We’re here to tell you that you can stay fit throughout the winter, no matter what life throws at you.
Does Taking Time Off Make a Difference?
There’s no doubt that late fall and winter, with the parade of holidays and the dark, cold weather, can be a tough time for fitting in, or staying motivated for, your workouts. And nobody is saying you need to be a workout machine, never taking breaks or pushing through pain: in fact, your body needs rest and recovery days to repair muscle fibers and strengthen itself between workouts.
But there’s a difference between rest and recovery, and taking an extended break, which can end with what’s known as “detraining” or “deconditioning” – and that can happen more quickly than you might think. For example, one study from the Journal of Applied Physiology found that just two weeks of no exercise can lead to a significant decline in physical fitness, including reductions in cardiovascular endurance, lean muscle mass, and insulin sensitivity. Another study found that most of the aerobic capacity gained through exercise over two to three months is lost within two to four weeks!
Other studies have had even more worrying findings: namely, that a short, two-week period of inactivity can cause a rise in blood pressure, as well glucose levels – and consistently higher glucose levels can raise your risk of heart disease and diabetes. And how about if you take two months off? You’ll begin to see changes in your body composition, as well as negative impacts on your metabolism and a greater risk for cardiovascular issues.\
Wow, that’s a lot to take in, right? Just two weeks of putting off your workout can really start to add up; not only that, but once you stop, it can be hard to start up again. So the best solution is to stay consistent and try to make exercise part of your life. But how can you do that at this time of year? Simple: follow a few easy tips and you’ll be staying fit even as the temperature drops and the holiday hustle heats up (and you might just get some bonus stress relief from the endorphins that you’ll get pumping!)
Start Your Day Off Right
We know that not everyone is an early riser, and you might be tempted to say, “Well, I feel more energetic in the afternoon, so I’ll put my workouts off until then” – but trust us, you’re much more likely to get your workout done if you get it out of the way first thing. Not only will all the craziness (or laziness) of this time of year be less likely to interrupt your flow and interfere with your plans to work out, but studies have actually shown that our willpower is highest in the morning before we’ve had to exert a lot of self-control (translation: spending the day saying “no” to cookies wears you down after a while!)
Get Nerdy with a Workout Schedule
Take the time at the beginning of each week to plan and schedule your workouts: write down when and what you’re going to do, so exercise is a prioritized part of your day. You don’t want to waste precious time figuring out what kind of workout you’re going to do that day.
This time of year is all about connecting with and being thankful for friends and family, right? Well, why not find another way to be a positive part of each other’s lives by making a fitness pact? You can plan to work out together, or even just keep similar schedules and report back so you have some sort of accountability. And if no one wants to join in with you? Consider joining an online fitness group or taking part in a social media challenge.
Look for Deals
If working out in a gym is your thing, now is actually a great time to find the right workout venue for you. As the new year approaches, lots of gyms will start offering specials to lure in people looking to keep their resolutions to burn off those Christmas cookies. Purchasing a class pass or something similar could be the motivation you need to get you moving.
Make a Travel Plan
One thing that can really mess up your good workout intentions? Being away from home. But traveling doesn’t have to be the kiss of death for your workout routine, you just need to do a little proactive planning. For example:
- If you’re going to be staying in a hotel, find out if they have a fitness room and plan your workouts around the equipment they have, like weights or cardio machines.
- If you’re staying with friends or family, ask if they have nearby gyms that might offer short-term passes, or if they have any equipment you can use. When in doubt, throw a pair of headphones and resistance bands in your bag and queue up some simple workouts on YouTube – there are some excellent body weight, small space workouts out there, and some are even “silent,” so you don’t have to disturb those around you!
- If the weather’s not going to be too bad where you are, look for parks or trails where you can go to get in some cardio.
- Ask your family to join in on the exercise fun!
Try Fitness Snacking
Don’t get hung up on the notion that you have to do an entire 30-60 minute workout in one go. If you’re busy, or even if you’re feeling unmotivated to set up camp in front of your weights for an hour, try “fitness snacking,” or doing short bursts of activity throughout the day. You can schedule 10 minutes of any physical activity you enjoy or that gets your blood pumping (like dancing, simple calisthenics, or even gardening) in between all of that stuff you have to get done, or tell yourself that you’ll do 15 pushups, 20 lunges, 30 squats, etc at certain intervals throughout the day.
Worried that breaking up your exercise isn’t as effective as doing one long workout? Don’t be: studies have found that fitness snacking is just as effective for health as doing longer workouts, and some experts even believe it’s better for you. For example, one recent study found that a simple daily 11-minute workout, consisting of walking in place, running in place, lunges, and other light calisthenics, improved cardiovascular fitness up to 7% compared to the control group. It also had surprisingly big benefits for people who were previously more sedentary.
Do Some Seasonal Sets
You know what? Not all workouts have to be so planned out and formal. Exercise is anything that gets your body moving, your blood pumping, and your muscles working, so get outside and rake those leaves or shovel that snow, or stay toasty indoors and offer to help with the holiday housework. Hey, you can even head to the local mall and take a brisk walk around while checking out the decorations and getting some gifting inspiration!
This time of year can be beautiful and fun, full of lights, love, and magic. It can also be hectic, stressful, and can take a toll on your body – but you don’t have to let it derail your efforts at maintaining the health you’ve worked so hard for! There are so many ways to keep yourself on track, even if it’s offering to shovel snow for a neighbor or parking your car further from the shops and taking the stairs at every opportunity. You give so much to others at this time of year, so now it’s time to focus on you and what you need, so get out there and get – and stay – fit this winter. You’ve got this!