Exercise Physiologist, Healthy Connections
Despite loving to exercise, it is sometimes the last thing on my mind as I wake up to a very chilly morning. I don’t think I would be wrong in saying most of us feel the same way during this time of year, where mornings are cooler, days are shorter and all we want to do is snuggle up on the couch and eat warm, comforting food.
An American study conducted last year found 43.9% of individuals delayed exercise during the winter months (Wagner, Keusch, Yan & Clarke, 2019). Furthermore, temperatures of below 16oC were strongly associated with less exercise. We also tend to overeat during winter, with one study theorising that we are predisposed to store more fat during winter because historically there was less food around when we were hunter-gatherers (Higginson, McNamara & Houston, 2016). Another reason why we tend to eat more when it’s cold is due to its thermogenetic (“heat making”) effect (Clark, 2020). In other words, the process of eating generates warmth for our bodies. Reluctance to exercise coupled with the predisposition to eat more is one reason why many people report weight gain during this time of year.
So we’ve established that it can be more difficult to exercise during the cooler months, but it also very important to maintain our activity – how do we maintain our motivation? Here are some of my tips and considerations.
If you’re struggling to get out of bed for an early morning walk, think about your ‘why’ – WHY are you exercising? WHY is it important for you? When I ask clients these questions, many say ‘I want to improve my health’ or ‘I want to lose a little weight’. In my experience, these ‘whys’ aren’t very effective – I believe that your ‘why’ needs to be personalised; the individual must feel strongly about why they are increasing or maintaining their exercise.
For example, the current reasons WHY I exercise are to improve my rock climbing skills, relieve daily stresses, and maintain a good figure for when I get married next year. These ‘whys’ will change depending on your stage of life, any upcoming events and your daily routine. So when clients answer with ‘I want to lose a little weight’, I ask ‘WHY do you want to lose weight?’ which makes them think a little deeper and respond with ‘well my son is getting married at the end of the year so I want to be able to look nice for the photos’ or ‘I can’t get onto the floor to play with my grandchildren at the moment so it would be great if I could do that’. These ‘whys’ are very personal and they need to be for moments when we are struggling to find motivation (i.e. when we don’t want to leave our warm beds).
Everyone has busy lives, and when life is hectic, exercise tends to be one of those things that gets left behind. But it shouldn’t. Exercise comes with many benefits and we need to move every day. So I see exercise as one of those daily requirements, like eating, brushing your teeth and getting ready for the day. Now I’m a diary user – I write all of my errands and appointments down on a calendar so I don’t forget anything. Even though I don’t physically write ‘exercise’ on that calendar, it is on my figurative schedule and I’m always trying to figure out where I can fit it on those busy days. Try to think of exercise as an essential part of your day – if you can’t fit it into your morning, can you do it in the afternoon, or during the middle of the day?
All you need is 30 minutes out of 24 hours (that’s 2% of the day).
If you’re someone like me who needs to write everything down, then write exercise in each day of your diary! See it as an important appointment to attend and set reminders to do it. If you don’t like the cold, I would recommend scheduling your exercise during the warmer part of the day (if possible) or swap outdoors for indoors.
I prefer exercising outdoors but winter comes with coldness and darkness during the times of day that I usually exercise. Thus I have had to change my exercise routine slightly because I know that I will reluctant otherwise. During the week, I’ll exercise outdoors if it’s still daylight or go to the gym / do a home workout on the colder, darker days, and then exercise during the warmest part of the day on weekends. Reinventing your exercise mode also provides the opportunity to try new things and add variety to your routine, which can also boost your motivation. If you are finding it difficult to find inspiration, Burnie Brae has recently added some new physical activities to the timetable!
One important consideration of exercising in weather extremes is its effect on our temperature. I often struggle to decide whether or not to wear a light jumper for outdoor running because it’s cold when I start but naturally I will warm up after a while. After I stop, I start to feel cold quickly. If I’m not careful, these rapid changes in surface temperature may cause changes in core temperature potentially leading to a fever or illness. The solution? If you are exercising outdoors, it is important to wear layers of clothing, so that you can easily remove clothing when feeling warmer or add on clothing at the end of your activity to avoid a chill.
Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you don’t lose fluid when exercising. You might find that you don’t sweat as much at this time of year but in fact, the cooler weather means that sweat evaporates quicker so it gives you the false sensation that you aren’t sweating. If you are doing an indoor workout, it is also important to maintain your fluid intake because the air-conditioner or heater can dehydrate us. We may also be reluctant to drink enough water because we look for warm fluids and foods during winter. However, lack of adequate water intake can place us at a greater risk of getting sick so ensure you are still having at least 2 litres every day (especially if you are exercising!).
These are my tips and tricks to boosting motivation to keep moving during winter.
Stay safe (and warm), wash your hands and keep moving!