Swimming laps in an outdoor pool or long bicycle rides through the metro parks are my personal favorite exercises during the warm weather months. Both burn lots of calories and offer low stress on the joints. And because I enjoy them so much, a nice, positive, emotional and psychological boost is added while I commune with nature. These activities bring back happy childhood memories while allowing me to get outside and away from computers and cell phones.
As the weather changes and it is no longer enjoyable to be exercising outside, I look for inside alternatives, and there are many. Stress, and its effects on the body, play a greater role in colder weather. This may be due to the fact that the total hours of available sunshine drops off, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. The angle of the sun and the shorter amount of daylight prompts the seasons to change. It has an effect on plants and we see an example of this with leaves on the trees which fade and drop off. Plants go into their dormant period, and so it would make sense that in some ways people do too.
Thus, it is more important for us to find a good exercise plan to help us through this quiet period. So let me offer a few suggestions:
Yoga-In many recent scientific studies, the ancient art of Yoga is shown as an important complementary therapy in reducing anxiety disorders, depression, and pain management and may be a non-pharmaceutical aid to diseases such as hypertension and spine mobility.
Meditation-Here the studies show an increase in awareness with regular meditation practice and a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol. In one study conducted where the participants meditated daily for 20 minutes, showed a reduction in pain, anxiety and anger. Social relationships saw improvement with greater closeness among partners and the ability to be more accepting. Parenting techniques that incorporate mindfulness and meditation helped lower stress in the family overall and children to cope with their unique needs.
Walking/Jogging/Running-These are all available as indoor activities and should be in your daily routine to help keep up serotonin levels, a hormone that at lower levels stimulates hunger. These activities also burn some calories which may aid in weight loss and better sleep patterns. It is a personal choice whether you are active inside or outside, but if you can find an indoor gym these are definitely activities to include during the long dark days of winter.
Weight Training-More research is available on how we begin to lose our muscle strength and weight training at least once per week is shown to help maintain what muscle strength we already have. This is particularly important as we age. There are personal trainers available or group classes to make sure you train safely. They are well worth the cost. Most gyms and community centers offer class instruction on how to keep up your strength for all ages and conditions.
Indoor Swimming, Basketball, Spinning Class, Aerobics classes– all these activities are available in many communities and provide the socialization as well as the physical activity needed to get through the dark days of winter. Don’t forget about the outdoor activities like skiing, sledding and ice hockey. A variety of activity will keep you interested and motivated. Besides, now all that is necessary, is to keep an eye on those extra calories offered over the holidays, and you will be in great shape to wear that bathing suit you picked up on sale last summer.