5 easy ways to keep active in winter – and why it’s important

How to stay motivated and moving when it’s cold and wet outside – with tips from the experts

It’s wet and miserable outside, you know you should get out walking or to a gym class, but it all seems like too much hard work…

We’ve all been there. As the weather gets worse, our motivation drops until the furthest many of us are moving is from the sofa to our fridge.

But with countless scientific studies showing how important keeping active is for our physical and mental health, we’ve got advice from the experts on how to get your enthusiasm back and why it can make such a difference during these long winter months.

A smiling older man and woman all dressed up for cold weather in the snow holding walking polesCredit: Shutterstock / SeventyFour

We exercise less in the winter

All of us are less active during the winter months

Surveys have shown that most of us in the UK move less as the temperatures drop. Health company Noom found a fifth of adults see their exercise levels drop by as much as 37% during the winter.

The poll of 2,000 adults revealed that three quarters of us put the drop in our activity down to the colder temperatures, while 57% are put off by dark mornings and evenings.

But it’s not just the bad weather that’s the problem. In the winter our vitamin D levels drop and if you are not taking a supplement that can lead to fatigue. Many people also suffer from SAD in winter months – this can cause low energy, sleepiness and a lack of interest in things.

Why keeping active is so important

We need to keep moving, whatever the weather

Countless research has demonstrated the benefits of keeping active – including reductions in weight, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and strokes. Exercise can also help protect your mental health – reducing fatigue, stress, depression and anxiety while boosting optimism and self-confidence.

Just heading outside for a walk can make a difference, as studies into the benefits of walking found it can help you live longer, sleep better and even turn back the biological clock.

Senior couple on bike keeping active in winter -Credit: Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images

Exercising outside can help boost your immune system

Samuel Quinn, Personal Training Lead at the UK’s leading healthcare charity Nuffield Health said: “Our Healthier Nation Index research found that Brits find it most difficult to stay motivated in winter.

“Keeping up regular exercise during winter can improve our ability to fight infections, colds and viruses, especially if you exercise outdoors. This is because exposure to the cold is linked with bolstering our immune system.

“Our bodies also burn more calories exercising in colder temperatures – meaning that any exercise will come with additional benefit.”

How to get moving

Don’t beat yourself up

Keeping active in winter is tough, so the one bit of advice Quinn says is essential, is not to beat yourself up if you struggle with exercising.

“Be kind to yourself,” he says.

“Accept that your motivation will fluctuate and it’s more than likely that your routine won’t always go to plan. The key thing is not to be too harsh on yourself and don’t allow a minor setback to derail your plans entirely. Try to stay as consistent as you can, and you’ll soon start to see great results.”

With that in mind, here are five tips to help you stay active this winter.

1. Try a class or fitness video

A fitness class or video could boost your mood

A woman sat on a mat, stretching to one side with her arm over her head, following a Pilates video at home.Credit: Shutterstock /Prostock-studio

Qualified personal trainer Rebecca Fuller says what makes a difference for her is knowing how great she’ll feel afterwards.

“I like to workout first thing, before my brain has figured out what it’s doing,” she admits. “I’m more inclined to exercise in the comfort of my own home during the winter. The thought of de-icing the car or setting foot outside in the pouring rain isn’t appealing to me.

“YouTube has a wide array of videos you can follow; Joe Wicks has dedicated workouts for seniors that are kinder on the joints.

“Remember, exercise isn’t a punishment for something you ate! It’s an opportunity to move your body, get the blood flowing and then enjoy all those lovely endorphins that are released afterwards.”

2. Go for a walk – whatever the weather

How to get active outside in winter

Annabel Streets is the author of the best-selling 52 Ways to Walk – the book examines the latest science on the benefits of walking and gives practical tips for making the most of your daily steps.

She told Saga: “Getting out when it’s cold, wet and often dark is difficult for all of us. Our brain tries to keep us safe, with our energy preserved, by keeping us away from conditions that would once have put us at risk. Fortunately, the chances of drowning, or being eaten by a predator, are now very slim.

“Because we spend our days hunched over indoor screens with a packet of biscuits, it’s more risky for us not to go out – but out brain hasn’t quite caught up.”

Streets says wet weather shouldn’t put us off. In fact it has some important health benefits.

She says: “Rainy walks are among my absolute favourites. A downpour causes plants and trees to release all sorts of phytoncides – plant chemicals which are good for our health and smell delicious.

“The scent of woodland after rain is very calming, but it also reduces our blood pressure and steadies our heartbeat. Studies show that we burn more calories when we walk in the rain – because the body has to work harder to keep us warm.

“Downpours also wash away air pollution and increase the number of negative air ions – a molecule that carries an extra charge and has been shown to benefit our respiration system.”

Make sure you have the right equipment

Streets says that the most important thing is to have the right clothes and footwear.

“There’s nothing worse than walking with wet feet and a damp shivering body. I always recommend walking poles in the winter. Not only do they help prevent slips and fall, but when we walk with poles we work our entire body, we walk faster, and we feel less fatigued. All of which means we stay toasty warm.

“I also recommend wearing two pairs of thick socks and carrying a flask of something hot if you’re going into the wilds.”

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3. Keep it short and sweet

Fit your exercise around your lifestyle

Man running up stairs -Credit: Shutterstock / Maja Argakijeva

For those of us working full time, we can find ourselves spending almost all the daylight hours inside.

Use your lunch break for a walk – even 15 minutes will help your physical and mental health, as contrary to popular belief, shorter workouts may hold greater benefits for your overall health than longer ones.

One study revealed that incorporating one- or two-minute bursts of intense exercise, such as brisk stair climbing, three times a day can significantly reduce cardiovascular mortality risk by nearly 50%, compared to individuals who engaged in no such bursts. This suggests that even small, frequent bouts of high-intensity exercise can significantly impact your well-being.

Don't forget to warm up

Warming up is more important than ever when the weather is colder. Not only does warming up help to prevent injury and improve your performance, but it can also be a fun way to kick start your workout. To shake things up, try blasting your favourite song to get yourself energised, or set yourself a challenge such as doing as many burpees as possible in a minute.

4. Do it with others to stay motivated

It can also help combat loneliness

Working out with others can be great way to stay connected socially, which is important as the days get shorter.

Nuffield Health’s Healthier Nation Index research revealed that 35% of Brits felt social isolation had impacted their physical health. Group activities can also help motivate you on those days where the darker days make exercise less appealing.

Fuller says that exercise can also be a great socialiser if you are feeling lonely during the dark winter months.

“If you live alone, find out what classes are on at your local gym or leisure centre,” she advises. “A lot of places offer senior classes or chair-based exercise, and you get to meet new people at the same time.

“One of my favourite things to do is attend a class with some friends and then have coffee together afterwards- it leaves me feeling happy all day, despite the gloomy weather.”

5. Plan ahead

Get organised with your workouts

To keep your winter routine on track, planning ahead is key. Try checking the weather forecast for the week ahead, so you can choose those warmer days and avoid getting soaked out on a walk or run.

Tracking your exercise can also help keep you motivated – whether its jotting down a training plan or using a fitness tracker.

Keep hydrated and fuelled

As well as planning your exercise, it’s important to get organised when it comes to water and a balanced diet.

In warmer months taking a water bottle with you when exercising is a given, but avoiding dehydration should still be a priority, even in winter months.

Dehydration not only affects your physical performance, but also has impact on your overall health. Try to drink water consistently throughout the day and make sure you are hydrated during exercise.

Keeping yourself fuelled with a balanced diet is equally as important, given the body naturally craves carbohydrates and sugary foods in winter months.

The extra benefits of getting active in winter

Cold weather can help you lose weight

Exercising in winter showing off your neck -Credit: Shutterstock / Lithiumphoto

Even though our instinct is to stay warm inside during colder weather, it’s actually better for our body if we expose it to colder temperatures.

Streets says: “Studies suggest that cold weather helps us to think more rigorously, so take a walk in the cold before tackling a tricky piece of work.

“Even better, a touch of cold increases our levels of brown fat. This type of fat is really good for us and chomps up the bad white fat that can clog up our arteries. Thin people tend to have good stores of brown fat. We typically collect pockets of it beneath our collar bones – so keep your neck exposed for the first few minutes of your cold weather walk.”

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her

Updated:

Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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