Keeping Active in Cold Weather

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By News Team on January 20, 2020

When the leaves and temperatures begin to fall, many people envision a winter’s worth of curling up by cozy fires, cooking traditional comfort foods and binge-watching holiday movies.

But increased food intake and decreased activity can have a cumulative effect, resulting in habits and health changes that last beyond the winter months.

According to Patrick Dunham, clinical training manager at Carilion Wellness and Living contributor, a one- to two-pound gain over the winter months is not unusual but can be avoided keeping active and having fun doing it.

"Exercise should not seem like a chore!" he said. "And that's a nice thing about outdoor activities—they don't feel like a traditional workout, but the benefits are definitely present."

Dunham asserts that those benefits go beyond the physical.

"Exercise is known to have psychological benefits as a stress reducer and mood enhancer, and that's especially important for those affected by seasonal affective disorder," he said.  

"In addition, minimal exposure to the sun during winter can lead to low levels of vitamin D, and spending time outdoors is one of the best ways to increase it," Dunham added.

Consider some of the following winter activity ideas for yourself or your loved ones.


young family painting a bedroom with parents dancing and daughter smiling
Dancing is a great way to stay active when it's cold outside. Painting and home improvement projects can be fun, too!

In general, kids follow their parents’ and caregivers’ leads when it comes to physical activity. If you’re active, they’ll be active. Try some of these ideas to make winter exercise fun:

  • Dance—turn the music up and get down! See who can come up with the silliest dance moves.
  • Build an obstacle course—make it out of pillows and sheets and imaginary hazards such as alligators and sharks.
  • Pay to play—indoor playgrounds such as Salem’s Launching Pad Trampoline Park, Roanoke’s River Rock Climbing Gym and the seasonal ice-skating rink at the Berglund Center will keep your kids in motion.
  • Play video games—many games, especially those developed for the Wii, are designed to include physical activity.

More year-round ideas for making exercise a family affair are on Living here.

Working Adults
It’s not easy to stay active when you arrive at work before sunrise and leave work after sunset. Dunham recommends starting a walking or workout buddy system group that allows you to hold each other accountable.

  • Climb—use the stairs instead of the elevator, and even use them Rocky-style for a workout.
  • Walk—add a few minutes to your commute and park in the farthest possible space so you can walk the remaining distance to work. Go outside at least once during the workday and walk around your building, parking lot or block.
  • Join a gym—gyms such as Carilion Wellness's five facilities open early and stay open late, so exercising before or after work is usually possible.
  • Exercise at your desk—run in place, do jumping jacks and try chair-based neck and shoulder stretches.

More ideas for moving at work are on Living here.

older couple in grocery parking lot with woman in buggy and man pushing
Park at the far end of the lot so you can walk a bit farther whether working, shopping or playing!

A recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise and reported on by the New York Times found that regular exercise can actually slow the aging process. To get and stay active, try the ideas listed above or any of these:

  • Learn—take advantage of community-sponsored arts, fitness and dance classes.
  • Walk—add a few layers and head outside, or keep warm and dry by walking with a group at the local mall.
  • Stretch—yoga classes are available throughout our region at gyms and private studios.
  • Volunteer—stacking cans at the food pantry or delivering cards and flowers to hospital patients can be both physically and socially rewarding.

Most of these options are suitable for all ages. And in our region, the most time-honored winter activity is to bundle up and take a hike. This time of year offers the added benefit of solitude, as fewer hikers are on the trails than in warmer weather.

Dunham reminds us to consider both safety and physical limitations when doing outdoor activities such as shoveling snow or hiking.

Whether you stay inside or head outside, the healthy—and fun—thing to do is keep moving.