Even the most dedicated fitness buff struggles to stay active when temperatures plunge. But there's no such thing as an off-season for exercise: Recent guidelines call for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week — even in darkest winter. So what's the secret for staying motivated when you'd rather be curled up by the fire?
Exercise pros can help. This fitness primer from the health and wellness experts at Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program offers some fresh ideas to keep you moving during the winter months.
Sign up for indoor classes and teams
Ever had a yen to try salsa dancing? Play racquetball? Join a bowling team? Now's the time. Winter classes and groups not only help keep you active when it's too cold outside, they can also shake up a stale aerobic routine. Joining with a friend or partner keeps you accountable and amps up the fun.
Need an even bigger nudge? Studies have shown that people who engage in more-social sports activities — versus solitary activities like swimming and jogging — may live longer. Tennis, badminton and soccer players had the most improved lifespans.
Break out the cold-weather gear
For anyone who loves the bite of crisp air and the comfort of a warm sweater, this one's a no-brainer: Have fun with all the equipment and activities you can't enjoy any other time of year. We're talking skating, skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowshoeing and winter hikes.
Bonus: Studies have shown that people who exercise outside, versus indoors, may experience greater feelings of revitalization as well as mood benefits, including decreased anger, tension and depression.
Create your own mini home gym
When you really don't want to head out into the cold, get a fun workout in at home. These affordable pieces of fitness equipment can help you turn any corner into a home gym.
- Yoga mat. Rolled up and stashed in your workout area, a yoga mat takes up little space, but offers a soft surface for your routine.
- Resistance bands. Light, portable and available in a range of lengths and strengths, these flexible elastic bands can help you maintain an effective resistance training program without big weight machines or cumbersome dumbbells.
- Foam rollers. These self-massagers come in a variety of lengths and densities; beginners can start with medium density. Using the rollers can help you increase flexibility and improve mobility, and help speed muscle recovery after an intense workout.
- Bike trainer/roller. New bike trainers and rollers, which allow you to ride your bike inside instead of out in the snow, span a wide range of affordability and portability options. Both have been shown to help with cycling training.
Remember: Every minute of activity counts, whether inside or out. Sometimes, "close enough" can be OK. Too cold for your 30-minute walk outside? Try squeezing out 20. No way are you headed outside into a blizzard for your 45-minute run? Head to the stairwell instead and run up and down steps for just 5 to 10 minutes.
Recent studies have shown that even 1- to 2-minute bouts of intense interval training, like cycle sprints, practiced 3 times per week can improve cardiac and metabolic health just as much as more-moderate, 50-minute-long cycling sessions.
We all need to keep moving for improved health, no matter how cold and dark it is outside. But how you choose to spend that time is all up to you. Bollywood dance class, anyone?