By Andrew Heffernan
People respond to winter in different ways. For some, it’s time to rest and hibernate — especially in colder climates, where even a trip outdoors can be daunting.
Others go to the opposite extreme: Millions of Americans each year make ambitious New Year’s resolutions, vowing to lose weight and get fit by spring. These wintertime exercisers are aware of a need for movement to reach their goals.
Whichever camp you fall into, you can avoid the extreme traps of winter by tuning in to the qualities of the colder months.
“Winter is the quietest, most reflective season,” says Thompson. “It’s a time to go inward.”
Meditation, journaling, therapy, and other strategies for exploring untapped thoughts and feelings can be especially effective in winter. “Allow yourself to go to new places emotionally,” she advises. “You may not be comfortable there, but that’s the point — being willing to explore what makes you uncomfortable.”
What does this have to do with fitness? Everything.
Instead of fighting the season, you can reinforce this sense of inward vitality with a turn toward more internal physical practices as well. Ancient modalities such as yoga, tai chi, and qigong, and more modern disciplines, including Feldenkrais and Pilates, can improve balance, coordination, flexibility, and mobility, while teaching you to use your body more efficiently. These practices can be both physically restorative and mentally challenging. (For a restorative yoga flow, visit “The Restorative Workout“.)
While any time of year is a good time to listen to your body and heed its signals, the quiet of winter primes us for this type of reflection. By working with the natural desire to slow down, we have a unique opportunity to notice things that we might otherwise ignore.
“Winter is the time to get hidden information from our bodies,” says Thompson. “Your body is a receiver that helps you tune in to what’s happening in your own world.”
Low-intensity cardiovascular activity is another good choice in winter. It’s possible to maintain (and even boost) your cardiovascular and joint health, as well as overall mobility, with leisurely activities that don’t leave you depleted.
Moreover, at a lower intensity, cardio can calm you down and improve your mood.
If you are tempted to use long bouts of cardio to offset winter weight gain, remember that, like animals, humans evolved to store fat through the winter for our own health and survival. The added pounds are usually balanced out by an equally natural loss during spring and summer.
Instead of using hard-charging cardio for quick, often unsustainable results, reimagine it as a tool to reconnect with your body, reduce stress, and have fun.
Though icy roads and subzero temps in some places may make winter seem inopportune for certain types of cardio — think road biking and trail running — there are still plenty of options for raising your heart rate.
Snowshoeing, downhill skiing, ice skating, and sledding are just a few of the many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and connect with nature during a time of year when it’s easier to retreat indoors. The activities themselves will keep you warm — not to mention challenge your cardiovascular and muscular strength.
Recent research suggests that cross-country skiing, which uses both upper- and lower-body moves, is among the most effective forms of cardio available. (Learn how to up your cross-country game at “Hit Your Glide in Cross-Country Skiing“.)
And “fat bikes” — thick-tired, ultra-sturdy mountain bikes designed for rugged winter conditions — can open up worlds of new workout options, too, with more dedicated trails becoming available every year.
Just remember to reserve time for recovery, advises Taylor: “Give yourself permission to slow down.”
Andrew Heffernan CSCS, is an Experience Life contributing editor.