How to beat the seasonal blues

It’s very easy to make excuses for not exercising in winter. The colder months bring with them frost, ice, freezing drizzle and snow, making many feel more like snuggling up in a duvet than working up a sweat. In this week’s column, Nikki explains why it’s important to keep active and how you can stay fit as the weather turns bitter.

Even with the best intentions, it is easy to hibernate in winter.

The days draw in, the temperature drops and you crank up the central heating making you feel sleepy.

But while it’s tempting to hide beneath baggy Christmas jumpers and stuff yourself with turkey until summer returns, don’t hang up your exercise gear just yet.

Staying active throughout the winter is actually a great way to beat those seasonal blues, keep you trim, help your waistline recover from the extra mince pies and put a smile on your face.

Think positive

If you are already in an exercise slump, it’s time to give your mindset a work out.

Try writing down three reasons why you might want to kick start a new regime.

Perhaps you want to wear a certain dress to the office Christmas party? Maybe you have a skiing holiday booked? Or do you just hate the feeling of fullness after a holiday of excess?

By finding an objective to work towards you are more likely to be decisive and in a pre-emptive state.

Good for mind and body

Now, if you are struggling for a goal, it might help you to know that exercising when its cold is actually vitally important for good health.

This is because the winter temperatures can cause your blood vessels to constrict, thickening the blood, which puts you at a higher risk of a heart attack.

By working up a sweat you can improve the flow of the blood and your circulation.

Chest infections are more common in winter, too.

But exercising loosens your chest, improves lung capacity and makes it easier for you to breathe. Regular moderate exercise will also boost immunity by improving lymphatic and cardiovascular circulation.

Another good reason to get exercising in winter is to lessen your chances of suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which is thought to be caused by a combination of lack of sun, activity and proper nutrition.

Regular moderate exercise will release essential endorphins to keep the blues at a minimum, and doing this outdoors will top up your vitamin D levels.

Finally, exercising in winter is more effective for weight loss than in summer.

This is because your body has to work twice as hard to keep a safe level of warmth – which means you burn more calories in a shorter space of time.

Get going

Half of the battle is taking the first step towards exercise.

So don’t open the curtains to check the weather before you put your gym kit on, just do it! If you think about it too much, it won’t happen.

Aim for 15 minutes of exercise a day.

But don’t feel like you have to do the same thing you do the rest of the year.

Winter is a good opportunity to try something new, such as ice skating, walking in the woods or even a jog on a frosty beach. A change of scenery works wonders.

If it snows enough, you could even learn a new outdoor skill such as snowboarding or tobogganing.

Better still, get building a snowman with your kids and have a snowball fight too!

If you really can’t stand the cold, consider other ways to work out indoors.

You could join a gym or put new training equipment or workout DVDs on your Christmas wish list.

Swimming is also a great way to exercise in the winter because it works your whole body, burns calories, strengthens your posture and improves your heart and lung function.

You can also reap the rewards by relaxing in the steam room or the Jacuzzi afterwards.

Whatever exercise you are doing, remember to drink enough fluids to stay hydrated.

It’s easy to drink less in the winter because it’s cold, but your body still needs water to function properly.

Stay safe

Regular exercise will make you feel more energetic, which should make it a little easier to get out of your warm bed on cold, dark mornings.

But don’t overdo it. Slowly build the amount of exercise you do and always warm-up before you start.

You should also make sure that if you are excercising outdoors you are dressed appropriately.

Wear layers and remember, you lose 50% of your body heat from your head so always wear a hat. You might also want a good pair of gloves and socks to protect your extremeties.

If you’re exercising after dark, keep to well-lit areas and wear bright and reflective clothing. Ideally, exercise with a friend, but always tell someone where you’re going.

Avoid listening to music while running outdoors. Not hearing what’s going on around you can make you vulnerable.

If rain or ice is making exercise dangerous, do it another day.

Stick with it

Exercise will make you feel invigorated, alert and ready for the next challenge of the day. In comparison, hibernating in front of the television with a box of Roses chocolates will leave you feeling sluggish and unfulfilled.

Having said that, if you manage your 15 minutes work out each day, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy a bit of the latter too.

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