Why you should keep exercising through winter

Yes, the clocks have changed and winter is almost here. When the mornings are cloaked in a blanket of darkness and the evenings shrouded in a chill, the last thing you probably feel like doing is exercising.

But this time of year is exactly the time to pick up an exercise routine or stick to the one you have already. Barbecue season is over, you have more time to fill now that social events are dwindling and it’s easier to stick to a routine.

Experts agree that going to a class or even a brisk walk can boost your mood, keep those winter calories at bay and ward off germs.

Read more: Do you get the winter blues? Here are the SAD symptoms to look out for

Here are the reasons to get your heart rate up during winter.

It could burn more fat
Research from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands suggests that once you’ve acclimatised, exercising in the cold burns fat quicker than more comfortable temperatures, because deposits of so-called ‘brown fat’ are activated as the body learns to get warmer, faster. So winter might even be better for weight management than those jogs in more pleasant weather.

Beat the winter blues
Exercise is a great way to beat winter blues. Studies link increased exercise to better moods for people with depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you’re able to exercise outside during daylight hours you’ll get more of that elusive vitamin D from sunlight, which is good for bones, teeth, and muscles.

It helps you choose healthier food
Exercising in the morning may make you think twice before reaching for that pastry and undoing all your good work. With all the lovely winter vegies around it’s easy to whip up a bowl of wholesome comfort food for dinner.

Read more: How to . . . satisfy food cravings with healthy alternatives

It’s good for your immune system
It’s cough and cold season but exercise could help ward off the sniffles. Even short bursts of exercise are good for your immune system and general wellbeing.

But what about exercising if you’re already feeling unwell?

Should you exercise with a cold?
According to Dr Diana Gall, “It depends on what type of cold you have: a head cold or a chesty cold.”

A head cold has “symptoms such as a sore throat and runny nose”, she says, while the chest version involves “a chesty cough, body aches and a raised temperature”.

With a head cold, Dr Gall says: “It’s usually safe to carry on with exercise, even if you need to lower the intensity while you’re under the weather.

“If you’re suffering from a chesty cold, working out could worsen your symptoms and make you feel even more unwell, as well as putting you at risk of injury, so a rest in these circumstances can often be better than a workout.”

Even if you are safe to go to the gym as normal, it’s probably not advisable to lift your heaviest weights or go on a 10km run. “You should avoid straining yourself too much – keep your exercise routine lighter than usual and take note of your symptoms day by day,” Dr Gall recommends. “If you wake up feeling much worse than the day before, or have developed any additional symptoms, it would be wise to avoid exercise until you start feeling better.

“The good news is that ‘exercise’ is a broad term,” she adds. “If you usually go running or do cardio workouts at the gym, it’s probably not the best idea to carry on with these whilst you’re ill. But lower-intensity exercises, such as going on a walk, some basic yoga, or resistance band training could keep you active even while you have a cold.”

Prepare, prepare, prepare
I know it’s hard to get motivated to get out the door, but preparation is key.

Planning and writing down exercise sessions ahead of time makes it more likely you’ll do them.

If you’re exercising outside, check the weather to ensure you have the right clothing ready. The general rule of thumb is to dress for weather 10 degrees Celsius above the actual temperature as you’ll be generating a lot of body heat and will warm up quickly.

Remember to warm up, for example, with light jogging before really going for it.

Don’t forget about hydration too, you may sweat less in colder weather, but you still need to drink plenty of water.

Read more: How to boost your gut health and immune system this winter

Cold air tends to be drier, meaning your body has to work harder to humidify air as you inhale it. When you can see your breath, that’s actually moisture leaving your body. So, make sure to drink water throughout the day – even if you don’t feel thirsty.

When it’s so cold and miserable that you don’t even want to step foot outside, having some exercise options at home can make all the difference. Whether it’s following along with a yoga video, doing some bodyweight exercises in front of the TV or even some vigorous cleaning., it all counts.

Do you stick to your exercise routine through winter? How do you stay motivated?

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Written by Ellie Baxter

Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.

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