winter_treeThe long winter nights can really take a toll on your fitness routine.  For many of us, it’s already dark when we begin our commute home from work.  Coming home to a dark house, we yearn for the comforts of a blankie, the couch, some soup and the remote.  And if you’re an early morning exerciser, you may find it dark out when you get up as well as when you drive home from work.  It’s no wonder the bears hibernate at this time of year.

But this is also a time of year when exercise is especially important.  Lack of sunlight can cause depression and lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  And for many of us, the reduced access to sunlight leads to a drop in Vitamin D levels which can lead to fatigue and depression.  And since exercise is a great way to battle depression, it’s especially helpful when the nights are long.

So naturally, I have a few tips to help keep your workout on track even on the shortest days of the year:

1.  BE SAFE: If your normal daytime workout is now happening in the dark, you may need to take extra precautions.  If you exercise outdoors, wear reflective clothing so others can see you.  It’s especially important to have a charged cell phone with you at all times.  (Lots of cell phones have neat-o apps or music programs available that can track your workout miles and pace or offer special motivational talk or songs.)  Even if you exercise inside, you may  be traveling to and from the gym in the dark.  Be aware of your surroundings, walk in with a buddy if you can, and it’s always a good idea to have some self defense training.

2.  EXERCISE IN SHORTER BURSTS: One of the best ways to take advantage of the limited light is to squeeze in a lunchtime workout.  But it’s pretty tough to get in whole hour or even 45 minutes of exercise and still manage to eat some lunch.  Lunch time is great for a 15-minute burst of more intense exercise.  Put on your tennis shoes and go for a power walk.  You can also potentially get in even shorter (5-10 minute bursts) during your morning or afternoon coffee breaks.  New research is coming on line that indicates shorter more intense bursts of exercise may actually be better for your health than long and slow workouts.  PLUS as an added bonus, short winter workouts are less likely to leave you hot and sweaty.

3.  TAKE VITAMIN D: As I mentioned earlier, the shorter days mean that many of us get less access to sunlight (a primary source of Vitamin D for most people).  Vitamin D deficiency can make you feel depressed and fatigued which can affect your exercise motivation.  Now might be a great time to talk to your doctor or pharmacist and explore whether a Vitamin D supplement is for you.

4.  DRESS FOR SUCCESS: Make sure if you’re exercising outside in the winter that you are properly dressed.  That means wear layers that you can put on or take off as you feel too hot or too cold.  Make sure to protect hands, ears and other areas sensitive to cold.  And it can be especially important to wear sweat-wicking, technical fabrics in the winter, as sweat soaked cotton can leave you dangerously chilled at the end of your workout.

5.  EXERCISE IN THE MORNING: I know that all you night owls are groaning right now.  But after we set the clocks back in the fall, you tend to have more access to daylight in the hours before work than after.  Now’s a great time to get up just a little earlier in the morning, and get in a short burst of exercise right before you head off to work.  If you have a long commute, you could leave for work a half-hour earlier and get in a quick walk or jog somewhere near the office.

6.  CHANGE AT WORK: If you are a night exerciser, it can be especially challenging to get in a workout when it’s dark after work.  Once you get home and start checking your email and spend a few minutes/hours on facebook, getting changed for a workout can seem like a monumental task.  And let’s face it, exercise clothes are just as comfy for sitting on the couch and watching some tube as they are for exercising.  One strategy that seems to work for a lot of people is to change into your workout clothes before leaving work and exercise before arriving at home.

These are just a few strategies to help keep you enjoying the lifelong benefits of exercise even when the days are super short.  And don’t forget the main strategy: have fun!


The Fat Chick

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