By Marit Pywell, R.D., L.D.N.
Brigham and Women's Hospital
Let this be the year that your winter workouts don't wither with the weather! Being active during beach season is wonderful, but why do we let our daily walks and exercise routines fade out with the summer sun? Of course there are many excuses we could use — less daylight, cold temperatures, bulky exercise gear or the blistering heat and humidity of certain seasons in the South. But instead of coming up with reasons why not to exercise, focus on the benefits of year-round physical activity. This will help you survive the bad weather blues and prevent weight gain. It's not enough to be a fair-weather exerciser. You'll miss out on when you choose to hibernate for a season or two.
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The Benefits of Year Round Physical Activity
It's not enough to be a fair-weather exerciser. When you choose to hibernate for a season or two, you miss out on these benefits.
- Weight control – According to research findings from the National Weight Control Registry (developed to identify the characteristics that helped more than 5,000 individuals maintain long-term weight loss), 94% of participants exercised about one hour a day (and not just on the sunny perfect days!) to lose weight and keep it off.
- Increased energy – A common complaint of those who do not exercise is "I'm too tired to exercise." Regular physical activity actually gives you more energy so you feel less tired and lethargic.
- Better mood – Your body's plasma concentrations of endorphins (mood-enhancing peptides) increase with exercise and enhance your well-being. Studies have shown that exercise can even help to combat mild depression.
- Stress management – Emotional eating is a common habit that leads to weight gain. If you find that you reach for comfort foods whenever you're feeling stressed, try taking a brisk walk instead. Exercise can help to release tension and stress, and burn calories as a bonus.
- Better sleep – A regular exercise routine can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. (Hint: Avoid exercising too close to bed time; you could have trouble falling asleep, especially if you're an older adult.)
- Better overall health – Year-round physical activity can help improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar control and prevent bone loss. Exercise may even be your best defense against the common cold this winter, according to a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine. When sedentary individuals walked briskly for 45 minutes most days of the week, they reduced the number of days they were sick by 50%.
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Are You Meeting Current Recommendations?
An advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services will issue the first federal guidelines that focus on physical activity in late 2008. In the meantime, the following recommendations were made in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
- To reduce the risk of chronic disease in adulthood: Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity above your usual activity, at work or home on most days of the week.
- To help manage body weight and prevent gradual, unhealthy body weight gain in adulthood: Engage in approximately 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity on most days of the week while not consuming more calories than needed.
- To sustain weight loss in adulthood: Participate in at least 60 to 90 minutes of daily moderate-intensity physical activity while not consuming more calories than needed. Make sure you have talked to your health care professional before engaging in this level of activity.
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Tips To Stay Fit During Extreme Weather Seasons
Get closer to meeting current physical activity recommendations with these tips. You'll reap the many benefits of exercise all year long:
- Schedule your exercise as if it were an important meeting or appointment. Identify available time slots each week for physical activity. If you plan on exercising four times a week, schedule in at least five "exercise appointments." If circumstances prevent exercise one day, you've got a back-up exercise day just in case.
- If you live where it is cold during the winter, embrace the snowy days and plan activities that you just can't do in other parts of the country! Exercise doesn't have to be limited to a gym. Shoveling your walk way (or helping a neighbor shovel theirs) can be a great form of exercise. (If you are over age 40 and/or have heart problems, consult with your physician before attempting to shovel snow.) Just get out and play! Go snow-shoeing. Go sledding. Inquire about public skating hours at a nearby ice rink. Buy an inexpensive pair of ice skates from a local sporting goods store, or a used pair from a thrift store.
- Spend as much time outdoors as possible. Check the weather reports first, but during the warmer winter days (40°F and above) and the cooler summer days (below 90°F), plan to take long walks outdoors while the weather is mild. Walk to work, park your car farther away, or get off the bus a few stops early and enjoy a brisk walk before and after work to increase your daily steps.
- Hit the mall for exercise. You won't have to spend a dime! Most malls open early (before the stores open) and allow "mall-walkers" to do laps around the length of the mall in the comfort of the indoors.
- Discover the free or low-cost fitness centers located near your home or workplace. Ask about year round or month-to-month membership that would allow you to have a place to exercise during the extreme weather months. Many fitness centers offer group discounts. So gather a group of friends, family members, or co-workers and join together! There may be a YMCA near you.
- Make an exercise "date." Find a friend, family member or co-worker and make plans to go to the gym, an exercise class or participate in a sport on a weekly basis. Sharing an exercise routine with a partner will help keep both of you motivated — and have fun together!
- Try something new. Sign up for a yoga or Pilates class. Try a kick-boxing or a martial arts class. Buy or rent a fitness video. Go bowling, country line dancing, or learn to dance. Salsa, hip hop, ballroom, even belly dancing classes are a great way to burn calories and have fun at the same time.
- Be creative during bad weather. If you watch television for an hour each day, try to get up and do sit-ups, jumping jacks or jump rope during each commercial break. This could add up to almost 20 minutes of exercise! For an even better workout, try marching or dancing in place for an entire 30 minute program!
- Sneak a little exercise into your daily routine. Make chores your chance to be active. Put some music on while you're doing housework and keep up with the beat. Do a lap around the perimeter of the grocery store before starting your shopping. Always take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. Park as far away from the entrance as (safely) possible. Get up and walk to a co-worker’s desk instead of calling or emailing. Move every chance you get!
- When exercising or playing outdoors, remember these hints: Dress in layers, wear sunglasses or a visor to shield eyes from sun, and wear sunscreen to prevent sun damage. In warm climates, stop in shade to take breaks as needed, and always carry water to drink before, during and after exercise. When it's cold, protect your hands with gloves or mittens. Wear a hat or cap because most body heat is lost through your neck and head. Warm up slowly and drink plenty of fluids. You can get dehydrated in the winter, too.
The only way to stay physically fit all year round is to make exercise a priority. Think creatively and make a plan to be stay active all year long. Remember that there are 1,440 minutes in a day, so do your best to devote at least 30 of them to exercise.
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Marit Pywell, R.D., L.D.N. is a clinical dietitian at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She holds a Bachelors degree in Business Administration from Saint Michael’s College, Colchester Vermont, and a Bachelors degree in Nutrition from Simmons College, Boston. She completed her dietetic internship at Simmons College and recently completed work as a research dietitian with the POUNDS Lost Study conducted by Harvard School for Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital.