Top 10 Tips for Staying Active This Winter

It’s that time of year! We are waking up to fresh snow on the mountain tops and the snowflakes are starting to fall. While the white fluffy stuff gets the skiers excited, this can be a difficult time of year to stay motivated, even for the most dedicated exercise enthusiast.

The chilly temperatures and fading daylight can make it hard to get out of bed, let alone get the body moving and go outside. If you struggle to stick to your routine this time of year, you are not alone. Studies show a wave effect where physical activity levels start to decrease as temperature goes down. How can you reduce obstacles and stay active?

Top 10 Tips for Staying Active This Winter

1. Find an exercise buddy or commit to a class or group.
Having a friend helps with social connection as well as creating some positive peer pressure that helps with accountability. It’s easier to skip a session if you’re the only person involved. Set a standing date once or twice a week to provide structure. Having an exercise partner helps build camaraderie in facing the elements and can be a distraction from less optimal weather.

2. Have a back-up plan for indoor workouts.
Consider joining a live class on Zoom or another online platform or find a video on YouTube that you can turn on at a time that works with your schedule. Following along a workout takes some of the brain work in having to figure out what to do. If you are not a class person, the PCN’s Active Living team can help you build personalized workout that you can do at home.

3. Make it a warm start.
If your busy schedule requires you to do a morning workout or if you like the satisfaction of getting your exercise in at the start of your day, program the thermostat to kick in before you roll out of bed and have your workout clothes ready to automate the habit. The less decisions your brain has to make in the morning the better! If you can, place your workout clothes near a heater so they’re cozy and warm.

4. Make it a goal just to start.
If the thought of committing to a 30 or 60-minute workout feels overwhelming, focus on just showing up. Get dressed and cue up a video on your screen or put your shoes on and commit to a 5-minute walk away from your house. If after 5 minutes, you’re still not into the idea, you can turn around and walk home knowing you got a 10-minute power walk in. Chances are, once you are dressed and start, you will likely go for a longer but it’s okay to do an abbreviated workout if that is what you need.

5. Exercise during your lunch break.
For those of us in the 9-5 world, it can be hard to go out in the mornings when it’s dark and the sun can be setting when we finish work. Try working out in the middle of the day, during the peak daylight hours. Sunshine can help bolster out body’s circadian rhythms increasing our energy levels and improving our sleep. The Bow Valley PCN also sometimes offers free online lunchtime workout classes, take a look at our current Community Class offerings.

6. Focus on the mental health benefits.
While there are so many long-term benefits from exercising, sometimes we don’t see the results right away and this can be discouraging. However, the mental health benefits happen almost immediately. Exercise releases neurotransmitters called endorphins as well as other chemicals like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. This “hit” of brain chemicals helps boost our mood, reduce stress, increase our confidence and allows us to feel more relaxed. This is especially important in the winter months as people struggle more with fatigue, depression and anxiety.

7. Dress for Success.
Plan ahead and anticipate. Check the weather and dress accordingly. Dress “dry” and not just “warm”. For your base layer, wool or synthetic layers such as polypropylene or “quick-dry” materials work best at wicking moisture away from your body so you don’t get chilled. Wet fabric against your body (ie. cotton) will zap your body heat – and your motivation as you get a chill. If you are out for an extended period and doing aerobic activity, you may also want to consider technical fabrics for your true base layers (underwear and sports bras). Dress in layers so you can strip down as you heat up. You may want/need a middle layer such as a polar fleece and an outer layer for protection against the wind and snow. Opt for bright colors to make it easier for motorists or other trail users to see you. If you are out in the evening hours, consider reflective clothing to improve your visibility to others and use a headlamp to light your path. When you get home, strip out of your sweaty gear, put on some dry clothes or hop into the shower for a warm-up. Consider bring a set of dry clothes to change into if you are driving to a trailhead to avoid getting chilled on the drive home.

8. Protect your skin.
As the temperature drops or if there is a wind, pay special attention to your hands, feet, face and ears. Hats, headbands and buffs can be taken off and stuffed in pocket it you get too hot. Synthetic fabrics, especially for your feet, are key. Rub on moisturizing cream or lotion for your exposed areas (nose and cheeks) or use a thin layer of Vaseline for sensitive areas like the nostrils, tip of the nose, and ears for more protection. If you’re out during the day, don’t forget your sunscreen and a lip balm with SPF. Snow reflects up to 80 percent of UV rays and skin cells can be damaged even on cloudy days. If you spend time at elevation, UV exposure also increases.

9. Get Traction.
Navigating slippery sidewalks and trails can be an agility workout all on it’s own! Protect yourself from falls and consider investing in a pair of ice cleats and walking poles for increased traction and stability. Ice cleats are best designed for ice and snow, use caution if transitioning to bare pavement.

10. Stay hydrated.
While on warm days, many of us are prompted to drink water due to thirst. However, this can be a poor indicator of your hydration level in winter months. You are still losing fluids as you breath and sweat during the colder months so be sure to replenish your fluids. If you are having a hard time getting excited about water, consider a hot cup of herbal tea or warm water with lemon.

Bonus Tip – Embrace the Wind!
Although it might be tough to head into the wind at the start of your walk or run, plan your route so as you heat up and start to sweat, having the wind at your back will help to preserve your core body temperature and avoid windchill.

You can also listen to more about staying active this Winter with Kiley Torti and Rob Murray on Mountain FM.

Living in the Bow Valley means long winters but it doesn’t mean you have to hibernate. Finding strategies to help you stay active and get outside will help to boost your mood, energy and your immune system. So bundle up and get out there!

Kiley is a Clinical Exercise Physiologist and one of the PCN’s Active Living Consultants.