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Staying Active in the Winter Months

The cold months here in Wisconsin can convince a lot of us that exercise can be put on hold until Spring. Yet we know the benefits to staying active (lower blood pressure, relief from stress and depression, and reducing your risk for several diseases) come from doing it regularly. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common type of depression that is related to the change in seasons - especially the shift into winter.  So how does one fight the cold and keep moving? Just like any new habit, it helps to find an activity that you look forward to doing and even a partner to do it with for extra accountability. Maybe a variety of activities is what will work for you - lending a challenge to the body and the mind during these slow moving months.

If you were born and raised in Wisconsin, the following winter activities probably are familiar to you - but has it been a while since you’ve done them? Could you now invite your kids to try it with you?

  • sledding, snow tubing, skiing or snowboarding
  • ice skating, snowshoeing or cross country skiing
  • snowmobiling or renting a fat tire bike and hitting the trails
  • taking brisk walks in the city or in the woods; either with a destination or time limit in mind or without
  • shovel snow from your driveway and offer to do your neighbors’

If you don’t necessarily enjoy being out in the elements, there are plenty of ways to stay active while also indoors:

  • get hand weights and resistance bands to do resistance exercise at home
  • buy or rent an exercise DVD from the library or download an exercise app for your smartphone
  • practice yoga: there are free videos here (https://www.doyogawithme.com/)
  • go indoor rock climbing at Adventure Rock
  • schedule a day each month to deep clean: extra cleaning like mopping or cleaning windows will get your heart rate up
  • join a gym or health club: there are a variety of group exercise classes for all levels 
  • join an indoor sports league like soccer, volleyball or basketball

If you’re not in a place to start up a new activity, just know that having a daily ritual of any kind can make the winter months more enjoyable. Even walking around the block on your lunch break or parking far away when you do errands can help alleviate tension in the muscles from long periods of sitting and help you think clearer. As your blood flow increases and your body warms up, being outdoors will start to have a positive association thanks to the release of the protein BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). This acts as a reset switch which is why we eventually feel happy and so at ease after exercising.

The cold, dark days take adjusting to and everyone struggles with it at least sometimes. Lower the feelings of isolation at this time of year by asking a friend, coworker, neighbor, significant other or family member to join you in getting outside on a regular basis. Start small with the goal to get outside for a walk at least once a week and build from there to find a new rhythm that works for you.