Maintaining an exercise regime in winter can be much more challenging than in summer. When the sun’s out, the days are warm and the nights long, it’s easier to find the motivation to go for a run or hit the gym. But in the cold, dark days of winter, exercise often doesn’t have the same appeal. While this is understandable, doing regular exercise is even more important now, when many of us may be feeling stressed, low or isolated. Exercise is just as valuable for mental wellbeing as it is for physical health, and maintaining a fitness regime over the next few months will hopefully allow us to get through winter feeling more energetic and positive.
So if you need some extra motivation to keep exercising this winter, keep reading for 11 ideas to help you achieve your fitness goals this winter!
1. Get outside for a walk during the day when it's light
During the winter months many of us are affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that hits when winter comes, sapping our energy and making us feel low. At the same time, lack of sunlight can reduce our body’s production of vitamin D, which can lead to depression and fatigue. One of the best ways to boost your mood is to exercise, as this releases endorphins, also called “happy hormones”. The problem is, when it’s cold and dark it’s doubly harder to make yourself work out.
If feeling tired or low, or you just can’t face going out in the dark, try to get into the habit of going for a walk during the day when it’s still light. Whether you choose to kick off your morning with a walk or go for a stroll after lunch, making sure you go walking when it’s light is one of the best things you can do for your mental health this winter, as well as your fitness. Most of us know how great walking is for our cardiovascular health, but new research suggests that even a 12 minute walk has a powerful impact on improving mood. So, if you really don’t feel like doing a ‘proper’ workout, tell yourself you’re going to go for a daily walk – rain or shine! – while it’s still light. Your body and your mind will thank you for it.
2. Treat yourself to some new workout gear
There’s nothing worse than deciding you’re going to brave the cold and go outside, only to be hit by a blast of freezing wind as soon as you step outside. The cold goes straight to your bones, and though you’ll warm up soon, it’s tempting to turn right around and head back inside. This is why getting the right workout gear is vital during winter. Not only does it make exercising much more comfortable and enjoyable, it also reduces the risk of catching a chill.
Treating yourself to some nice new workout gear can also act as a powerful motivator. If you’ve spent money buying good quality winter workout gear, you may feel disappointed in yourself if you don’t actually put them to good use. Even if you’re working out at home, pulling on some bright new clothes can help you get into the mood for exercise. If you’re exercising outdoors, it’s advisable to layer up, so you can remove items of clothing as you get hot. Things like thermal leggings, running gloves and waterproof jackets are always a good idea – and don’t forget a headband or earmuffs to keep your ears warm! Sports Direct stock a good range of winter workout gear, as does Amazon.
3. Make a plan
With exercise (as with many things), making a plan is a great way to stay motivated. If you don’t have a plan and decide to only exercise when you feel like it, you might find that moment never comes. Plus,when it’s drizzly and dreary outside, it’s normal to prefer to curl up on the sofa rather than go for a run! But if you plan your exercise in advance, your chances of actually getting a workout in increase significantly. Try to get in the habit of writing your workouts in your diary and calendar, and treat them as though they’re an important appointment you can’t cancel.
Planning ahead also allows you to prioritise, and if you have a busy week coming up, try making a helpful plan for when you’ll find the time to exercise. You can also add in alternative exercise ideas for when the weather is bad – for example, if you’d planned to go for a run but it’s snowing, do a 20 minute low-impact HIIT session instead, or do an online yoga session.
4. Lean on a friend
Finding yourself a workout buddy is an excellent way to stay motivated. Because nobody likes letting a friend down by cancelling plans, it can reduce your chances of skipping a workout, and help you stay accountable. It can also help you to view exercising as something fun, rather than something that must be endured. Plus, having a friend to pick you up if you’re feeling a bit down, or give you some words of encouragement if you’re lacking in energy, can also act as a powerful motivator.
If you don’t have a friend in mind then why not find one on Meetup.com, a website that allows you to find out about fitness events, and meet meet like-minded people in the surrounding areas? To comply with social distancing, many fitness activities have moved online, or are still operating in very small socially distanced numbers. Meetup.com is free to join, and events are also free, unless an organiser decides to charge group members a free. There is also a fee to pay if you yourself decide you want to organise an activity, or set up a group.
Once you’ve found a fitness buddy or an online class to join, you can hopefully keep each other motivated and look forward to working out together. During a time when it’s hard to make new friends, this is something many of us might appreciate more than usual.
Walking and running are great ways to workout with a buddy, as is power walking. Check out our power walking article to find out more about this sport.
5. Create a motivational playlist
Music is a powerful motivator. It can give you the energy and grit to run that last lap around the block, do that extra rep, or keep plugging away for just a few more minutes. If you don’t currently exercise to music, why not make a playlist? The tracks you can pick can be anything you want, but research shows that music with at least 120 beats per minute (bpm) can help you workout faster. To check whether your favourite tunes are 120 bpm, head over to bpmdatabase.
If you already listen to music while you exercise, you might want to consider giving your playlist a revamp. As it gets colder outside, we could all do with an extra boost from some of our favourite tunes, so whether it’s an old favourite you haven’t listened to for years or a new recommendation from a friend, creating the right playlist can get you raring to go! You can create free playlists on either Spotify or iTunes. You could also join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum, where you can find out what others listen to while they work out, and get some ideas and inspiration.
6. Join an online workout programme
Due to this year’s lockdowns and restrictions, online workout programmes have never been so popular – and if you haven’t tried one yet, now could be the perfect time to start. Following a specific class or programme can keep you motivated, while giving you the opportunity to work out at your own pace and on your own terms. Plus, when it’s dark and chilly outside, following an online workout class from the comfort and warmth of your own home is often far more tempting than heading out into the cold.
If you already do virtual workouts, why not mix things up and try something new? You can do pretty much anything and everything from your own home – boxing, ballet, running, HIIT sessions, yoga. There are online workouts for people who have their own gym equipment at home, and people who want to workout using their own body weight.
Trying a new sport or exercise can feel incredibly invigorating, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from learning something new is even more motivating. For suggestions on different online classes and programmes you might want to join, have a read of our articles 5 free online exercise classes to try during lockdown and 5 steps to staying fit from home.
7. Fuel up by eating the right foods
In winter, it’s normal to crave sugary, fatty foods more than usual. Many of us are prone to overeating during this period, too, which can leave us feeling sluggish and tired. Some of us drink more alcohol in winter too, either due to festive indulgence or because the cold weather is making us crave a few comforts. While it’s fine to treat yourself sometimes, eating the right foods is vital when it comes to feeling motivated. No matter your best intentions, if yesterday’s dinner consisted of just toast and wine, you probably won’t be feeling as energetic and motivated in the morning as you would if you’d eaten a healthy balanced meal.
During the winter, it’s important to eat plenty of seasonal fruits and vegetables to boost your immune system and keep you healthy enough to work out. You should also try to incorporate plenty of fibre and protein into your diet; stews and casserole are a great way to combine vegetables, fibre and protein, plus they’re warming and satisfying, and can give you the will to workout. You can check out some hearty meat-based stew and casserole recipes over on The Spruce Eats, and for some tasty veggie alternatives, check out the BBC Good Food website.
To keep your energy levels up, you could also eat some healthy snacks an hour or so before you exercise. To find out more about which foods are best to eat during winter, and to get some ideas for healthy snacks you can make, have a read of our new guide to winter nutrition.
8. Remind yourself why it's important
When your alarm goes off and it’s still dark outside, or when you get home from work and just want to flop on the couch, it’s easy to forget why you want to workout. In the moment, it’s also easy to dismiss goals that are actually really important to you. Before you get ready to exercise, remind yourself of why you’re doing it. It could be to get fitter. It might be to lose some weight. It could be because you’re training for something. It may be that it improves your mental health. Whatever your reason, try not to lose sight of the fact that it was important enough for you to start exercising in the first place – even if you don’t feel like doing it right now!
Aside from your own personal reasons for wanting to work out, try to regularly remind yourself of all the benefits of exercise. Remind yourself of how good it feels when you finish a workout, when those feel-good endorphins are flowing around your body and blasting away those winter blues. Exercise is proven to alleviate depression and anxiety, reduce stress, boost mood, help you sleep better, and even improve memory. And in a time of stress and uncertainty, that’s reason enough.
9. Reward yourself with treats
For most of us, rewards can be a very effective motivator. A recent survey by fitness website Fit Rated found that for people struggling to find the motivation to work out, having “indulgent incentives” to look forward to after exercise gives them a serious boost. An indulgent incentive can be any type of food you’re looking forward to, something that feels like a real treat: a slice of cheesecake, a glass or two of your favourite wine, or ordering a pizza after a long run. If you’re exercising to lose weight, it’s good to be mindful that your treats don’t undo all your hard work, but in moderation, it’s fine to enjoy a treat after a good workout.
Your treats don’t have to be food-based, either. You could buy a book, or a new pair of jeans after a week of good workouts. You could book yourself in for a massage. You could even put money aside each time you workout, and after you’ve done ten or so sessions, use the money to buy something you really want. It can be helpful to think about your rewards at the start of each week or month – that way, you can always daydream about the treats waiting for you once you succeed.
10. Give yourself time to relax and recover
It’s really important to make sure you take time to relax and recover after a workout. If you’re feeling tired and drained, or your body is sore, it can be hard to stay motivated. The human body needs time to recover after exercise, so take care to give your body a real break after a workout, and avoid putting any significant stress on your muscles. Having a long, hot bath is a great way to unwind after exercise, and you could add some bath salts designed to soothe aching muscles. Staying hydrated is important too, so making yourself a big (non-alcoholic!) drink after a workout is also very beneficial – this could be refreshing cold water with ice and lemon, or a restorative hot drink like hot chocolate.
It’s also helpful to relax your mind as well as your body, so you could try meditating after a workout. Meditation lowers the level of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, so this is a great way to bring your body back to baseline, and speed up your recovery. Plus, when you’re meditating you’re taking long, deep breaths which is beneficial after a workout, and taking the time to sit quietly after strenuous activity is a good way to reduce joint and muscle stress. To find out more, have a read of our guide to mindfulness.
To keep your motivation high, it’s also crucial to get enough sleep, so if you’re feeling exhausted after a workout, don’t feel bad if you want to have an early night! Hopefully, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed in the morning, with your motivation high.
11. When all else fails – dance
There may be times when no matter how much you try to get yourself out the door, or dressed in your workout gear, you’re just not feeling it. Sometimes our bodies might seem to be telling us that they just really don’t want to go for that run, or to do that 20 minute weights session.
If you really don’t feel like exercising exercise, then just dancing around your home for 10 minutes can act as a workout. It’ll get your heart pumping, your blood flowing, and hopefully it’ll give your mood a real boost too. Depending on your weight and how quickly you’re moving, you can burn between 300–800 calories an hour dancing. All you have to do is turn on your favourite songs, close the curtains (unless you’re happy giving your neighbours a dance show!), and dance like no-one’s watching.
If you’re feeling extremely unmotivated right now when it comes to fitness, do remember that you’re not the only one. Winter is notorious for sapping energy and positivity, and after the events of this year, it’s understandable that many of us just want to stay warm and cosy inside our homes. But investing in our health and fitness is one of the best things we can do to feel better about ourselves and more positive about the future – so when you’re feeling unmotivated, why not see if any of these ideas can give you a boost? After all, spring will be here before we know it, and working out throughout the winter will ensure we’re in better shape to embrace the year to come.
Do you struggle with fitness motivation during winter – or do you have any motivation ideas we haven’t mentioned? We’d love to hear about your experiences! Leave us a comment below or join the conversation over on the community forum.