Health and fitness matters
There’s no getting around it—winter in Ohio is going to be long and cold. Staying fit under those conditions can be difficult, when regular fitness routines are disrupted and social gatherings sabotage sensible nutrition. In the dreary winter months, even happy occasions can segue into the blues.
Want to stay in shape this winter—body, mind and spirit? Here are some tips to keep you fit inside and out.
On the outside
Kionta Carter, fitness director of the Grove City YMCA, says the weather affects our exercise habits in a big way. “During the winter months, people tend to stay indoors and not venture outside to drive to a gym or YMCA,” she says. “Even physical activity like gardening or walking the dog often becomes impossible during the colder months.”
Carter says the shorter days make exercise less appealing, and many people prefer to hibernate at home. The level of exercise we need remains the same in the winter, though, and may even increase, depending on our behavior.
“Because some of our most celebrated holidays are during the winter months, you will need to account for the extra holiday food and cheer,” she says.
To stay physically fit in the winter, try some variety. That doesn’t have to mean taking up snowboarding or ski jumping. Indoors or outdoors, new winter activities can be anything that generates excitement and an urge to get off the couch.
“Nothing shakes off the winter blues like trying a YMCA boot camp or Zumba class,” Carter says. “To relieve the stress of the cold weather and stressful winter driving, consider yoga or tai chi.”
The vast array of cardio, stability and strength conditioning classes in a typical fitness center can be overwhelming for someone who’s just starting out. Ask for an orientation, Carter says, and don’t let fear of the unknown become another excuse to be sedentary over the winter months.
There are countless classes and activities to try, and there’s never a better time than now. Terri Rosen of Ohio Krav Maga & Fitness says the discipline of Krav Maga is a great way to get fit in the winter or any time. Developed as a self-defense system by the post-WWII Israeli army, Krav includes kicks, punches and other techniques that are useful in a life-or-death situation. This empowers those who learn it, but it also conditions muscles we don’t typically use in our daily lives. Rosen says anyone, no matter what their physical condition, can practice Krav Maga.
“We’ve had people with chronic injuries, bad knees and hip replacements,” Rosen says. “The cool thing about Krav is that it works for everyone, regardless of their fitness level or experience with fighting.” Classes include new techniques, drills and both physical and mental training. Rosen says people often come to a class because they’re looking for a change—something completely different than their existing gym routine.
“They try things they’ve never done before, and they end up loving it,” she says.
For another change of pace, try a boot camp. Fitness and nutrition expert Jason Yun of Yun Strength and Fitness Centers designs a new routine for every class—no two have been alike.
In 45 minutes, a boot camp class will work the entire body, improve stability and flexibility and increase stamina. Yun’s classes focus on interval training, where students work as hard as they can for 30 seconds or so, then rest and repeat. He says this anaerobic technique has been proven to improve cardiovascular capacity better than traditional aerobic activities such as using a treadmill or stair climber.
Students may do push-ups, squats, lunges and other familiar exercises, but each has a twist. “I include a lot of different games,” Yun says. “Students pick a card and the suit determines which exercise they do. We have dice games and other variations. We work with kettlebells and resistance bands, and do lots of animal crawls, walks and jumps.”
In this case, getting fit really is as easy as child’s play, but some may still find it intimidating. Yun says that shouldn’t be the case. It’s all about personal best—not about being compared to the next person in line.
“People work out side by side, and they do the best they can,” he says. “If they can’t keep going the whole time, they rest and try to improve the next time.”
If winter storms keep you inside, turn your home into a fitness center.
“Your couch can become a place for squats during commercials of your favorite TV show,” YMCA’s Carter says. “Your stairs can become your cardio workout and your kitchen chair can become your tricep dip bench.”
If you opt for outdoor activities, Carter has a few tips. “When exercising in the winter, be sure to dress in layers,” she says. “Layers will allow you to adjust to your body temperature during exercise.” Exercisers also must drink plenty of water, no matter how low the temperature is outside.
“Just because you may not be sweating during your workout does not mean that you aren’t losing water, so be sure to hydrate,” Carter says.
Experts recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderately intense cardiovascular exercise each week, plus two days of strength training that hits all major muscle groups in the body. If you’re pressed for time, cut it down to 75 minutes of high-intensity activity, such as jogging, but don’t forget the strength training.
On the inside
Books, movies and our own childhood memories tell us that winter means laughter, sledding, crackling fires and picturesque scenes all around. In reality, there are bouts with the flu, slushy roads, too many days without sunshine and post-holiday letdown.
Social worker Sara Klusas of Meers Inc. Consulting Psychologists says winter can have a big emotional impact. “The winter months can be gray and dreary and seem very long, especially in Columbus, Ohio,” she says. Because there are fewer activities in the winter, people can suffer from lack of social contact and mood-enhancing sunshine, she says.
Lots of us feel a little blue on dreary days, but for some people the condition is more serious. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, has no confirmed cause, but experts suspect several factors. More hours of darkness in each day throw off the internal clock, which regulates sleeping patterns, Klusas says. Hormone levels also fluctuate in a person suffering from SAD. Their bodies may produce more melatonin, which regulates sleep, and less serotonin, which contributes to a feeling of well-being and can affect memory and learning.
“A person experiencing SAD has difficulty in daily functioning during the episode due to the intrusiveness of the symptoms,” Klusas says. SAD includes symptoms of depression, such as decreased interest, fatigue, changes in sleep and appetite, feelings of sadness, tearfulness or thoughts of death.
“Most often, those struggling with SAD have an increased appetite, increased desire for sleep, decreased energy level and a loss of interest in activities and social interaction,” Klusas says. Light boxes, which simulate sunlight, are a common treatment for SAD. Doctors also sometimes recommend psychotherapy and medication.
Experts believe that 4 to 9 percent of the U.S. population has SAD, though as many as 20 percent may suffer its symptoms in a less severe form. It is more prevalent among women and people living farther north, and it generally doesn’t affect people younger than age 20, Klusas says.
“In general, the depression symptoms usually begin in October or November and begin to dissipate in March or April,” she says. “Recognizing the symptoms and having a diagnosis of SAD confirmed can lead to a better understanding of your feelings.”
Even those who do not suffer from SAD can get a little down in the winter. Klusas offers a few insights into how to keep spirits high. “It is important to continue engaging in the things that make us happy in the warm months,” she says. “It is easy to get outdoors and be social and energetic when it is gorgeous outside, but it feels like all we can handle in the winter sometimes is trudging to the couch in sweatpants with a big bowl of pasta.”
Because we have the urge to hibernate, and because there aren’t as many sporting events, festivals and other activities to draw us out, it’s important to make our own opportunities for fun, Klusas says.
“It is up to us to create times that are fun and energizing,” she says. “Make plans to socialize with others, get outdoors in the sunlight—even if it is just a short walk on your lunch break—and plan day trips or a vacation. Being prepared for the darker evenings with plans and activities can also help fight the urges and excuses to do nothing.”
If friends are busy and you’re at a loss for how to brighten your day, Klusas recommends these quick fixes: exercising, volunteering, tackling a to-do list or turning on upbeat music. Try talking to someone outside your circle of friends. A social worker or therapist can lead you through cognitive behavioral therapy and help you learn how to create a positive worldview from the inside out.
“The theory basically states that one’s thoughts influence feelings and inspire behavior,” Klusas says. “Learning to recognize, understand and modify distorted thoughts helps to create more positive feelings and healthy behaviors.”
With so many things wrapping up at the end of a year, we sometimes neglect to see the promise in coming months. Experts recommend making positive, attainable and measurable goals—and writing them down.
“Taking steps toward these goals is empowering and helps place emphasis on the future instead of the past,” Klusas says.
Kristin Campbell is a freelance writer.