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Ward Off the Winter Blues with Exercise

Jan 05, 2012

Written by Greg Chertok, M.Ed., CC-AASP

The onset of colder weather often brings forth the “winter blues,” with corresponding ailments such as the common cold, constant congestion, seasonal depression and increased fatigue. But perhaps paramount to those pesky problems is one’s tendency to be inactive during the cold winter months. The shortened days and severe chill inspire little motivation to leave the house to do something active, let alone go out for the normal morning run.

Exercise provides an effective natural boost to both mood and health. Studies support the effectiveness of regular exercise as a way to manage mental stress, cognitive performance and energy. The unfortunate irony is that we find it most difficult to exercise during the winter when, arguably, we need it most. Those of us who have trouble adhering to an exercise program typically blame our lack of time or energy or winter’s early darkness. And when we truly believe we can’t maintain an exercise regimen, we become hopelessly disempowered to make any positive change.

So first, change the internal dialogue. This starts by understanding—regardless of your personal circumstances—that you really do have what it takes to fight the winter blues. This article will briefly outline how to maintain or begin a satisfying exercise plan, even in the most frigid months. Empower yourself with thoughts such as, “I can and will get healthier this season.”

Before embarking on your winter exercise journey, you must ask yourself: “Why am I doing this?” An honest, thoughtful and realistic answer is required here. Are you doing it to lose weight? Improve strength? Look good for spring break or for a special valentine? Keep up with your grandkids? Structure your answer based on what you would like to do, something that is personally meaningful, rather than what you think you ought to do. That is, don’t answer this question with a line that simply sounds right. Try to create a clear, vivid mental picture of what your goal looks like. Visualizing yourself as thinner, stronger or more confident, for example, conjures positive and pleasant emotions. Your journey will depend on this answer and the accompanying image you develop, so construct each with care. Once you have a specific, personalized and somewhat challenging goal and image in mind, you’re ready to begin the process.

The process is the everyday work—your chosen method(s) of exercise—that will get you closer to your goal. You should not feel compelled to fit into a generic program. Instead, fit an exercise program to your needs and characteristics. If you are looking for a social atmosphere, think about joining a class—there’s Zumba, Pilates, yoga, spinning, swim, all types of dance, among others. If you are looking for something more private, inquire at your local gym about personal training. Or, don’t leave the house at all. Buy an exercise DVD or a video game console as a special post-holiday gift. And listen to some music. Studies have shown that listening to your favorite music during exercise can improve results, both in terms of being a motivator (people exercise longer and more vigorously to music) and as a distraction from fatigue.

Think about ways to incorporate exercise into your daily activities. The benefits of moving throughout the day were demonstrated in a recent study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic about fidgeting. Simply being restless—by standing, pacing or toe-tapping—can burn about 350 calories a day. Walking briskly between errands, stretching in the shower or contracting your stomach muscles while at the office are some of the novel, convenient ways that you can fit exercise into your life. Don’t let the word “work” in workout mislead you—whichever exercise method you choose, the experience should be enjoyable.

With a goal, image and process firmly ingrained in your mind, the journey begins. Like you would with a new pair of sneakers or a sentimental piece of jewelry, be proud of your journey. Take ownership of it and make a real commitment to it. It’s enticing to say “I’ll fit exercise in when I can” and be content with that. But making it an anticipated and essential part of your day—like eating and bathing—completely changes your attitude. Those who write their goals tend to accomplish significantly more than those who do not. So personal slogans and reminders around the house, car and office will keep you motivated and on track.

We can achieve more, in all of life’s domains, if we restructure our attitudes. Start viewing your good health as a critical but engaging part of your daily life and fight those winter blues with a healthy dose of exercise.

View the full winter 2011 issue of the ACSM Fit Society® Page supported by Liberty Mutual online.

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