Cold Season Fitness Strategies

By Kaitlyn Fajilan

Winter wind got you stuck at home playing World of Warcraft? Step away from the keyboard—like it or not, you’re more in danger of gaining weight during the holiday season, and sitting around all day isn’t gonna help you any. Luckily, studies show that as little as twenty minutes of exercise a day can significantly improve cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of contracting chronic diseases like cancer, dementia, and diabetes. Follow GG’s winter fitness strategies to stay fit throughout all those helpings of figgy pudding.

Get Moving
Your body is programmed to stay in and pig out in order to build up a calorie reserve that will conserve warmth and sustain your energy levels throughout the winter. Though health surveys debate the average number of pounds Americans gain during holiday season, guys should still be wary of the urge to lock themselves inside a man cave once the nights grow longer. Going to the gym is an excellent motivator for staying fit because the brightness of the indoor lights will wake you up, readying you for your workout (lack of exposure to sunlight is often the culprit for lowered melatonin levels, resulting in sluggishness throughout the day). Another motivator is the fact that there will be many people there who are just as eager as you are to shed those holiday pounds. Vary up your workout by trying out different machines and adjusting to different settings.

Aim For Intensity
Don’t want to spend dough on a gym pass? Check out ‘high-intensity interval training’(HIIT) videos on Youtube or other online sites to blast calories in short, timed bursts of activity. Here’s a quick, beginner’s HIIT workout: do a sprint-walk ratio of 1:2. Sprint for 30 seconds, then walk for 60 seconds. Do these intervals for 20 minutes.

Another high intensity workout method that boosts endurance without having to step foot in a gym is the Tabata Protocol. The formula? 20 seconds of a specific exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated between 6 and 8 times. That’s a total of 3 to 4 minutes per workout. Sounds a little too easy, but if you’re doing it right—that means squeezing in as many reps as possible as fast as you can for every 20 second interval—you should be sweating like crazy. Many do 3 to 4 workouts per session, resting for a minute or two in between each workout. There are a number of printable tabata sheets you can find online, many of which do not require any equipment.

However you choose to exercise during the winter, it’s important to stick to a regular schedule in order to not fall off the work out bandwagon. Try setting aside a specific time each day to work out, or enlist a workout buddy to help you stay motivated.

Wear Appropriate Clothing
Just because the weather’s a bitch doesn’t mean you have to chain yourself to the elliptical. The key to exercising outdoors is to protect your extremities—since exposing your head, hands, and feet to cold conditions can cause you to lose up to 30% of your body heat, it’s essential those areas be covered up when you’re running laps outside. Keep your noggin warm by wearing a wool or fleece beanie or thermal cap. Also, invest in a pair of gloves (mittens for very cold weather) to protect your digits from the chill, as well as acrylic or woolen socks to keep moisture from sticking to your feet, preventing the formation of blisters. Since exposure to the elements can leave your lips dehydrated and chapped, keep some kind of lip balm handy.

Finally, layer up. The bottom layer should be made of some kind of synthetic, non-cotton material to wick the sweat you generate away from your body (think polypropylene). If you want extra insulation, wear a second layer of wool or fleece. Finally, throw on a zip-up jacket on top of your thermal wear.

Warm Up Before Going Outside
Sometimes that harsh blast of cold air is depressing enough to throw you off your game before it’s even started. If you’re planning on doing an outdoor workout, do a quick five to ten minute warm up before stepping outside. Anything will do—jumping jacks, high knees, butt kicks, jump rope—so long as it gets your heart pumping and isn’t too strenuous. Not only will the resulting psychological boost put you in workout mode, but also your body temperature will increase, preventing the air outside from feeling so harsh. Remember, however, that since cold restricts blood flow, you’re gonna have to work a little harder to conserve warmth. Luckily, this means you’ll be increasing workout intensity, thereby burning off more calories.

Watch What You Eat
Studies also show that the average person eats about 40% more when they dine out, so before attending a holiday party (where you’re bound to indulge in more than a few gingerbread cookies), munch on some low-calorie winter produce, like sweet potatoes, persimmon, kale, cauliflower, beets, artichokes, squash, and oranges, which are not only incredibly filling, but provide your body with much needed nutrients. Finish off with a glass of water. This way, you won’t show up to the party starving, which increases the likelihood of you overeating.

Also, we recommend you not even try to refrain from indulging in the “bad,” high fat, high calorie party foods. Human will power is actually quite limited, and the more you resist, the more likely you are to binge later. Practice intuitive eating—food can and should be a pleasurable experience when you’re hungry. So go to town on that pecan pie. Chew slowly, and enjoy every crumb. But remember to listen for internal body cues that signal fullness. As soon as they go off, stop eating. How will you know when you’re full? At some point during a meal, you put your fork down when your body realizes it’s sated. This is called the “pause.” Once you hit the pause, don’t dive back in for more food.