Even though it can be tempting to curl up under a cozy blanket on the couch and hibernate on those cold winter days, you know that will undermine your fitness—and your overall health.

Good news: It takes only a few tweaks to your daily routines (both outdoors and indoors) to stay active during the winter…and even—dare we say it?—make it fun. What you need to khow…

Why you need winter exercise

Physical activity is crucial no matter what the season, but wintertime exercise offers unique benefits…

  • Increased immunity. Research published in British Journal of Sports Medicine found that adults (ages 18 to 85) who got about 20 minutes of aerobic exercise (done intensely enough to break a sweat) at least five days a week for 12 weeks had only about half as many colds as those who were sedentary.
  • Reduced risk for lethargy, low mood and irritability. These are telltale symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but getting natural light outdoors helps guard against this condition.
  • More vitamin D. Sunshine accounts for up to 90% of our annual intake of vitamin D—a key nutrient for bone health, muscle strength and other vital functions. Even though you’ll get more winter sunshine in some southern and western states, exercising outdoors—no matter where you live—allows you to get more vitamin D than you would if you stayed indoors.

The joys of outdoor exercise

If you live in an area where the mercury plummets during the winter, there’s something undeniably invigorating about crisp outdoor air. Classic winter sports, such as skiing and ice skating, are great heart-pumping, muscle-strengthening forms of exercise.

But If you’re not keen on hitting the ski slope or ice rink, there’s an alternative that works for most people, regardless of their fitness level. You guessed it…good old-fashioned walking. It’s a convenient way to get both a cardio workout and weight-bearing exercise for stronger bones. My advice: During winter, walk at least 20 minutes a day to promote circulation and burn fat.

Note: To warm up your muscles, do your favorite stretches and light arm pumping and walking inside your house, or march in place, for three to five minutes, before venturing outdoors.

Helpful: Listen to your favorite music if you like, but stay alert to your surroundings. I like upbeat songs such as “Walking on Sunshine.”

If walking doesn’t excite you, liven it up by grabbing a neighbor or friend to join you for a brisk jaunt. Or if solitude is more your thing, head for a state park, where the beauty of a recent snowfall or the glint of winter sunlight can enrich the experience.

Stay safe outdoors

While outdoor exercise has undeniable benefits, it can be dangerous if you don’t do it correctly. If you have any lung problem (such as asthma), heart disease, diabetes or any other chronic condition, check with your doctor before exercising outdoors in cold weather. In addition…

  • Wear moisture-wicking fabrics closest to the skin when layering your clothing. Also: Forgo cotton—it stays wet if you perspire.
  • Avoid tight clothing. It can inhibit blood flow and lead to loss of body heat.
  • Cover your head, ears and fingers. Your body focuses on keeping your core warm, so your extremities are vulnerable. Also, you never want to walk with your hands in your pockets—that can throw off your balance. And don’t forget sunglasses—especially in snow, which reflects more UV rays.
  • Opt for bright colors so that you stand out in cloudy, gray or dim surroundings. Fluorescent yellow-green is considered the safest choice for daytime exercise.
  • Don’t wear sneakers made of “summer” fabrics (such as mesh material), which won’t shield your toes from low temps. Instead, choose sneakers made of heavy, heat-trapping material with rugged soles for traction.
  • Moisturize exposed skin (such as on the face and lips) to prevent chapping, and don’t forget sunscreen.

Sneak in some indoor activity

Don’t miss opportunities for indoor activities, too. If you’re tired of the usual options, such as gym workouts, yoga, dance classes or even mall-walking, try these moves (several times a day)…

  • Do leg squats for a minute or so while brushing your teeth or blow-drying your hair. If you have bad knees, do mini-squats while gripping a counter.
  • Do push-ups against the kitchen counter while waiting for your coffee to brew or tea to steep. Aim for 15. If you have wrist problems, try arm scissors—extend your arms in front of your body and parallel to the floor.  Then, scissor your arms horizontally. Aim for 30.
  • Lift hand weights while talking on the speaker mode of your phone or watching TV. Work your triceps (hold one hand weight with both hands behind your head with your elbows bent at 90 degrees, then straighten your arms to bring the weight over your head)…and biceps (hold a hand weight in each hand down at your sides with your palms facing up, then curl both weights to shoulder height). Repeat each exercise for at least one minute. Helpful: Start with light hand weights and work up to a weight that’s comfortable for you.
  • Do the stairs. Instead of walking up (or down) your stairs once, go up and down four times. If you’re concerned about your balance, use a handrail.

To find out how you can stay fit even on your busiest days, click here for a podcast from Denise Austin.

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