Winter introduces you to colder temperatures, darker skies, and an overall gloomier feel when you walk out the door. So it’s no wonder your natural inclination is to avoid all of it. Why battle the snow or put on an extra three layers of warm clothing when you have the option to remain in the comfort of your home?
Health Consequences of Hibernation
While it’s certainly easier to hibernate in the winter months than it is maintain exercise routines and social activities, the consequences of inactivity may make those efforts well worth it.
Physical inactivity can have a number of health implications. Not only can it lead to weight gain but it also increases the risk of health conditions such as:
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Type 2 diabetes.
- Certain cancers.
Furthermore, reduced sunlight in the winter, in addition to potential changes in serotonin and melatonin levels in the body, can put you at risk for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that typically occurs around the same time each year and is characterised by changes in mood, appetite, and energy levels.
For these reasons, it’s vital that you maintain physical activity, nurture your mental health, and keep your social schedule intact. The following ideas can encourage a healthier lifestyle outside of the home.
1. Embrace the Cold
Re-framing how you think of the cold weather may unveil the fun activities that it allows for. In the summer, for example, you can’t build a snowman with the kids or partake in snowball fights—both of which are not only great ways to stay active but to also let loose and have fun.
Ice skating, skiing, sledding, or going for a hike in the snow are all great ways to remain active while taking advantage of the weather conditions. Only a few extra layers of clothing required!
2. Join an Indoor Sports Team or League
Numerous sports are played indoors in the winter such as soccer, tennis, swimming, volleyball, and basketball. Pick your favourite and find a league in your area to join. A quick Internet search will turn up options near you or you can inquire about teams at your local gym.
In addition to the physical benefits, sports leagues also offer mental health benefits resulting from friendly competition, engaging with others, and bonding over a shared interest.
3. Find a Pool or Climbing Wall
If you don’t find organised sports appealing and prefer a more solitary activity, try swimming laps or rock climbing. Not only do these activities engage multiple muscle groups within the body, but they also promote mindfulness. Rock climbing, in particular, requires concentration and focused attention while a pool can serve as a novel environment for your senses, encouraging you to engage and take notice.
4. Swap Netflix Binges for a Coffeehouse
Your busy schedule often remains busy during the winter months, which is why it’s vital you allow yourself downtime to recover. Both body and mind are adept at reminding you when it’s in need of a break (you just need to listen!).
Binge watching a new show or re-watching an entire TV series has never been easier but after a couple hours, particularly during winter, it may leave you feeling isolated, unproductive, and unstimulated.
If you feel in need of some downtime but could also use time outside of the house, head to your local coffeehouse to read a good book or chat with a friend over coffee. Coffeehouses are often an ideal setting to catch up on downtime while also offering just enough stimulation.
However, if your brain wants nothing more than to stare at a screen for a few hours, swap the TV and couch for a seat at the movie theater. It doesn’t require much effort but still gets you out of the house.
5. Take Up Hot Yoga
Winter is a great time of year to take up hot yoga. Few things feel better than sweating out toxins in 90-degree heat then walking outside into cold, fresh air. (Walking outside to further high degree temperatures during the summer just isn’t as pleasant an experience).
Studios dedicated solely to hot yoga have increased in popularity. It’s vital, however, to stay hydrated when practising and to listen to your body. Light-headedness, confusion, and nausea are all signs you need a break, according to a Time article.
If you aren’t a fan of the heat, yoga classes practised in an average-temperature room provide many of the same benefits such as a reduction in stress, increased muscle strength and tone, and improved cardio fitness.
6. Maintain Social Connections
The cold weather makes it easier to isolate yourself, not only from physical activity but from other people. It’s important that you maintain social contact with your support system as well as seek opportunities to meet new people. While scrolling through Facebook may feel like maintaining social connections (without putting forth much effort), you need face-to-face interactions.
Commit to a book club or art class that meets regularly, set up dinner dates with friends, join a bowling league, or simply make a surprise visit to a friend’s house. (Elderly people can become particularly isolated in the winter, often unable to leave their house. A surprise visit is often all it takes to make their day). Volunteering is another great way to meet new people, and help others while boosting your own mental health.
7. Plan Ahead
Perhaps the hardest part of staying active and maintaining social connections in the winter is the extra effort it requires. When it’s warm and sunny out, you are naturally inclined to get moving and more easily come into contact with more people during the day (since you’re outside more often).
But by planning ahead, the extra effort to move and socialise will feel less daunting. Schedule activities, whether it’s meeting a friend for coffee or volunteering once a week. That way you’ll be committed to it and have something to look forward to.
Additionally, have a plan in place for those moments when you feel yourself scratching the walls after spending too much time indoors. It can be as simple as going for a swim or heading to a friend’s house. Whatever the plan may be, when you establish it ahead of time, you are more inclined to change out of your pyjamas and step outside for a while.
Remember, there’s no harm in spending a little time at home. Curling up in front of the fireplace or cooking a hearty soup or home-cooked meal is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. It’s all about maintaining balance: enjoy alone time indoors while also prioritising physical and social activity outside the home.