The Many Faces of Winter Fitness

And the Universal Struggle to Stay Motivated

Temps have definitely started cooling down, as they tend to do this time of year. We have lost several hours of sunlight from our day, and life inside is much more comfortable than being out.

It’s time for comfort food, hot chocolate, and curling up in a cozy blanket with a good book or a movie.

It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? 

Weather and Motivation

With the weather being uncooperative and all the holiday feels coming our way, it can be hard to keep up with a fitness routine. Getting motivated, finding time between holiday commitments, and a dozen other details can seem more important than keeping on top of physical fitness. 

It falls to the wayside, and by the time the new semester rolls around, it’s harder to get back into the routine. Many northerners experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that comes at the same time every year, typically in fall or winter and resolves in the spring or summer.

This form of depression is brought on by the lack of sunlight during late fall and into winter, and often results in fatigue, feeling down or depressed, or social withdrawal.

Even those without SAD can find it difficult to be motivated during “cozy weather”, or else just not want to venture out of our blankets into the cold. Our bodies use sunlight to make Vitamin D, and with the drop in light hours, the resulting drop in Vitamin D can cause an energy drop.

This alone makes exercise more important this time of year. Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin in the brain, our good-feeling hormones that boost our mood and energy.

Exercise, even moderate forms, is very strongly recommended for anyone struggling with mental health because of this fact. It also gives a feeling of accomplishment and allows us to be proud of what our bodies can do.

Even though the weather might not cooperate, and even though the change in routine can make motivation and finding the time can be difficult, there are still things to do to keep up with working out, and it doesn’t have to be hard.

So what does it take to stay active in winter?

Think Small 

Keep it small if that’s what you need. While classes are still in session, we are still walking all over campus. Take advantage of the extra steps.

Find the long way to class. Use the stairs, not the elevator. Walking is a great way to destress, clear your head, and contribute to your overall physical health. Even once classes take a backseat between semesters, finding time to walk – on a treadmill, outside (weather permitting), or using the NDSU walking track or a treadmill.

Try the Wellness Center!

Speaking of the NDSU Wellness Center, this place is an amazing way to keep moving if you are staying in town. Basically anything you want to try to keep in shape, they have it for you! Use it because that’s what it’s there for!

If you aren’t into lifting or cardio (although they have a huge variety of cardio and strength resources to use!), you can check out the climbing wall after completing an hour-long certification, swimming pool, racquetball, ping-pong … basically you name it, they probably have it. 

If you struggle with motivation or don’t know what to try, check out the Group-Fit classes. Again, there are a variety of classes to try, from kickboxing to cycling to dance cardio. Sometimes it helps to have others around you to throw in their own fun energy!

At home gym equipment can be helpful when you don’t have time to head to the gym
Photo Credit | Katie Leier

Workout at Home

Not on campus? Not a problem. Home workouts have become especially popular since the pandemic and YouTube is full of exercise videos to do right in your own home. 

If you live in the dorms or an apartment and don’t want to antagonize the neighbors, just add the word “silent” to the type of exercise you searched. There are even silent cardio workouts!

Investing in a pair (or two) of dumbbells helps if you still want to strength train. There are endless workouts to do with some weights from Walmart, if that’s what you need! 

Dumbbells not in the budget? Use bodyweight. These types of workouts are also on YouTube and can be just as effective.

Get Outside!

Winter also offers exercise of its own that is hard to find in warmer months. Ice skating, hockey, skiing, and snowshoeing are all ways to get outside as the weather permits and still get a bit of a workout in. They also allow for friends to tag along. The more fun, the less it feels like working out.

Tips to Help Motivate 

However, motivation is often what we struggle with, no matter the season. When our mornings and evenings are dark and cold, heading out to the gym can feel just a bit too much. The couch is more inviting than the strength training video in your YouTube feed.

It takes a different mindset, but it’s not impossible. There are several motivation tips and tricks to try before this happens.

Set aside a favorite show or podcast as your “exercise entertainment”. Only allow yourself to listen or watch while doing a workout.  It can be time to listen to music, catch up on a TV show or movie or a podcast that you’ve been meaning to spend more time with. 

Choose a specific time each day that you want to work out. Even if it’s only ten or twenty minutes, if you have it scheduled in, it makes it less likely to skip out.

 Have your gym bag set out the night before or put it in your car right away so you don’t “forget”. If you’re working out at home, have your equipment ready to go when you wake up or arrive home.

Plan your workout with a friend if you like! The social aspect can make it more appealing and you will have someone else to hold you accountable. Try new things together to shake it up.

Even though the weather might not cooperate, and even though the change in routine can make motivation and finding the time can be difficult, there are still things to do to keep up with working out, and it doesn’t have to be hard

Listen to Your Body!

Speaking of shaking it up, sometimes it helps to switch your routine a little. Our bodies can get used to the same thing if we repeat over and over and we don’t see the results as much. Adding a new set of exercises or trying a new workout routine can work our muscles in a new way to add to the results. Not only physical, but mental benefits arise. Changing up the workout can keep us from getting bored or burnt out, just like we need some change in other aspects of life. 

Maybe going to the gym, getting up early, hurrying through the morning is getting overwhelming. Try an at-home workout to avoid the commute or the hassle. Shorten the routine a bit to allow for more time, but still allow yourself the same amount of sleep.

If the burnout is real, maybe it’s time to take a break completely or invest in more gentler exercising techniques, like walking or stretching. Your body knows what it can take, so don’t push it beyond its limits.

Bringing It All Together

If holiday travel is on the schedule, don’t stress about not having the time or space to get in a workout. You didn’t get your gains in a week, and you won’t lose them in a week – or two – either. If you can go for a walk, go ice skating with relatives or friends, or anything of the sort, it can still count for fitness. Enjoy the break and the time with friends and family.

Exercise isn’t just physical. It’s mental, and a big piece of this aspect is the motivation. When the weather turns crummy, it can be even harder. Be sure to rest as your body needs, and when you feel ready to hit the gym again, have your plan in mind to keep you motivated. 

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