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.
"Exercising doesn’t need to be a long, strenuous workout for it to be worth it," says Michael Gallant, clinical programs manager at Carilion Wellness and Living contributor. “If you’re mostly sedentary now, simply taking 5-10 minutes to move, however you can, is enough to start feeling the benefits of being active.”
Those added benefits from regular exercise and activity include the ability to help control or reduce blood pressure and improve cardiorespiratory function. “This helps you to breathe more easily and not get fatigued as quickly," says Gallant. “It also means that you can do more of what you want to do with less effort.”
Hibernating all winter could also cost you more than gaining a few extra pounds. "Minimal exposure to the sun can lead to low levels of vitamin D, which is associated with osteoporosis and plays a role in those affected by seasonal affective disorder,” says Gallant.
Spending time outdoors is one of the best ways to increase your vitamin D levels, even if you have to bundle up!
Consider some of the following winter activity ideas for yourself or your loved ones.
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 are designed to include physical activity.
More year-round ideas for making exercise a family affair are on Living here.
It’s not easy to stay active when you arrive at work before sunrise and leave work after sunset. Gallant 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 four 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.
With age comes muscle and bone loss, so it is essential to stay active to keep up your strength and mobility. To get and stay active, try 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. Just remember to consider both safety and physical limitations when hiking or doing other outdoor activities such as shoveling snow.
"There are great physical benefits to staying active, but it can also improve your mood, stress levels and mental health," adds Gallant.
Whether you stay inside or head outside, the healthy—and fun—thing to do is keep moving.