6 Tips for Staying Active on Cold Days

Fitness couple winter morning exercise at snowy mountain.
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I live in New York City — not the coldest of the cold, but not always the most pleasant climate for winter outdoor activities. My friends in Minneapolis, Anchorage, Chicago, and Buffalo: I applaud you for even getting out of bed at this time of year.

It’s easy to let winter exercise slide away like a sled down an icy slope. But the benefits of staying physically active, even when it’s cold out, are numerous: Exercise can improve mood, energy and sleep, boost immune function, and prevent holiday weight gain, among other good things.

Sometimes we just need inspiration. Here, six practical ideas on how to keep moving, even on the darkest, brrrrrrr-est days.

1. Get the gear.

I used to look at high-tech, fleece-lined running tights and turn up my nose. $130 for those? Same with special base layers, heat-enhancing fabrics, headlamps and ice cleats. Now, however, I ask myself if that money is better spent on the gear or a few dinners out, and the answer is clear. Invest in products that make outdoor activities not just tolerable, but enjoyable. It’s always more fun to run in cozy mittens…and quality glove liners underneath will help protect your fingers from frostbite.

2. Lunch running (or walking, biking).

The lunch workout is my savior. It’s typically the warmest part of the day, it’s light out, and it doesn’t require getting out of bed at 5 a.m. I know it’s not feasible for everyone or to do every day, but try to schedule in a long lunch break even once a week. A short walk is better than nothing. And if you have to work a little later to make up the time? Well, wouldn’t you rather be sitting at your desk when it’s dark out than when the sun is shining?

3. A little help from your friends.

You’ve heard it before, and you’re about to hear it again. Make an exercise date instead of (or before) your brunch date. Or meet for Pilates class instead of drinks after work. Not only is it more enjoyable to work out with a friend, you’re more accountable for showing up. Plus, if you’re outdoors, it’s safer to exercise after dark with a buddy.

4. The humble yoga mat.

It takes up minimal space, rolled up or rolled out. When the polar vortex hits and you don’t even want to leave your apartment, you can get a perfect full-body workout in your living room. Commit to learning a basic vinyasa practice with sun salutations, an Ashtanga sequence, or follow an online yoga class. Of course, you can go to a studio to take classes, too, on less extreme days, and if you miss summer-volume sweating, check out an occasional hot yoga class.

5. Be in the “after.”

Not very often, but sometimes, it’s better not to “be in the moment.” Case in point: You are struggling to pry yourself out of bed (or your desk chair, or your car) get to spin class. Don’t be there. Instead, think of how you’ll feel after you’ve exercised. You know the feeling: energized, happier, accomplished, “good” tired. Call up how it feels to be in that place and use it to get out the door.

6. Plan an exercise-related getaway.

Consider making your seasonal or yearly vacation one where physical activity is the focus. Think as big or as small — as luxe or as simple — as you like and can afford. How about 10 days hiking in South America, a week surfing and swimming in Costa Rica, 5 days rock climbing in Tucson, or a weekend checking out the hottest barre classes in L.A. or Miami. You’ll re-invigorate and may even find a new activity to play with once you return home again.

Cara Anselmo on Twitter
Cara Anselmo
Cara Anselmo, MS, RDN, is a nutritionist and certified yoga instructor in New York City. Follow Cara on Twitter.