Exercise to beat the blues
Exercise to Beat the Winter Blues

What better way to cure winter depression and beat Seasoal Affective Disorder than to exercise your way through the winter? Not only will you keep the blues at bay but you’ll be getting in shape and keeping fit at the same time. WLR’s personal trainer, Nikki Glanville tells us how to beat SAD and have a cracking winter.

Exercise to Beat the Winter Blues

By WLR's Personal Trainer, Nicola Glanville PTI REP Level 3

There are plenty of ways to stay active and prevent weight gain during the winter.  When you're busy and tired it's easy to put off exercise until tomorrow, but sticking to a regular fitness routine is vital if you want to stay in shape and take care of your health.

Just think about all of the effort that you put into your health and fitness over the summer.  It’d be a shame to undo all of your hard work by sitting around feeling miserable all winter. 

Exercise Can Help Cure Seasonal Affective Disorder

Keeping up the motivation to exercise on a cold winter day instead of curling up under a warm blanket on the sofa can be difficult, not to mention the allure of all of the yummy holiday treats.  However, in addition to piling on the pounds, slowing down physically can have the unwanted side affect of bringing you down psychologically.  And at a time when the weather is lowering our spirits we need to take practical measures to stay active and happy. 

Reasons to Exercise Regularly this Winter

1. Weight Loss

With the imminent influx of mince pies and alcoholically fuelled social events almost upon us we all need to balance out the increase in available calories with a huge dose of will power or some seriously energetic workouts.

I recommend a combination of the two strategies as being the most realistic option.  To maximise your calorie burning potential you should participate in 30 minutes to one hour of vigorous exercise 3 - 5 x per week.

As a guide you should feel like you are working hard; your heart rate and body temperature will increase, as will your breathing will become more rapid.  If it feels like exercise then it is exercise.

Examples of vigorous exercise that will help you to reduce your body fat percentage are jogging, cycling, circuit training and spinning.

2. Positive Body Image to Combat SAD

It’s difficult to enjoy the Christmas parties if you don’t fit into any of your sexy dresses/DJs!  A positive body image is a sure fire way to beat SAD. Don’t panic, you’ve still got time to get into shape and feel your best.

Exercise can make you feel better about yourself by optimising your physical condition and helping you to reach a healthy weight.

For this I recommend a combination of resistance exercise to tone your muscles and cardiovascular exercise to reduce your body fat percentage.

3. Energy Boost = Mood Enhancement

If you are feeling sluggish and fatigued first thing in the morning, improve your energy levels with a Yoga, Tai Chi or Qi Gong session.  Each of these disciplines emphasises the coordination of breathing patterns and movements with the result of increased energy levels and reduced tension. 

4. Improved Detoxification of Waste Products  

Detoxing has become synonymous with New Year’s Resolutions.  Why wait until the New Year?  Regular exercise helps the body to eliminate toxic substances from the body.  These toxins exist all year round and our conscious efforts to detox should be a lifestyle choice rather than something to dip into following an overindulgent weekend.

5. Exercise to Increase Blood Flow

However, during the festive season, we place an even greater toxic burden on our poor liver and it could really do with some support.  Moderate exercise increases the blood flow to the liver thereby improving its ability to detoxify waste.

Try to choose an activity that increases your heart rate but make sure that you can still hold a conversation. i.e. brisk walking, gentle jogging, swimming, cycling or rebounding.   

6. Improved Immunity 

We all need protection from the germs that are circulating around the office or being brought home from school by our children.  Regular moderate exercise will boost immunity by improving lymphatic and cardiovascular circulation.

However, the effects of exercise on your immune system are short lived and in order to optimise these effects it is important to exercise regularly.

A daily 20-30 minute walk would be an ideal way to start – it would fit nicely into your lunch hour too!

Note: Regular vigorous exercise can place a higher burden on your immune system and adequate rest and recovery should be factored into your week.

7. Reduction in Stress Levels, Anxiety and Depression 

It is widely accepted in the health and fitness community that exercise has a positive effect on our mind body and spirit.  So let’s take practical steps to fight off those winter blues by increasing our activity levels.

If you are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression or stress, then some regular gentle exercise is one way to improve your overall sense of well-being.  One way that exercise improves our mental state is by removing the by-products of stress that surge through our bodies helping us to find inner calm.

Ideal forms of exercise to improve emotional well being are Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong.  Additionally some find that the rhythmical and repetitive movements of walking or gentle jogging help them to find a level of tranquillity.

Exercise Ideas and Strategies to Beat the Winter Blues

Below is a list of exercise ideas and strategies especially tailored for the winter.  You have worked hard all year to get where you are today so let’s push on through and make these months count.

Remember, you’ve probably got a Christmas party or wedding outfit to fit into and you want to look and feel your best. 

1. Psychological Focus

Start by asking yourself what exercise means to you?  What are you striving to achieve?  Focus your mind on your exercise goals.  Are you trying to lose weight, increase your self esteem, sculpt your physique or improve your health and fitness? Are you unhappy with your self-image right now?  Would a healthier, leaner you increase your overall sense of wellbeing and give you the self-confidence to feel happier in your own skin?

Write down your answers and explore what it would mean to you to achieve your exercise goals. 

Now reduce what you have written into 3-5 bullet points and pin the list to a few prominent places i.e. your fridge door, on your desk at work, inside the cover of your diary etc.  Let this list act as a reminder of why you want to exercise.

2. Just Do It! 

Half of the battle is taking the first step towards exercise.  That might mean packing your gym kit into your work bag, driving to the gym or arranging to meet a friend at an exercise class.

I often find that if I can switch off my inner monologue for just a few moments I’m in my gym kit before I know it and then there’s no turning back.

Don’t open the curtains to check the weather before you put your gym kit on, just do it! If you think about it too much, it won’t happen.

3. Swim, Steam Room and Jacuzzi 

Swimming is a great way to exercise in the winter because it’s an indoor activity.  It works your whole body, burns calories, strengthens your posture and improves your heart and lung function.  Follow the top tips below to get the most out of your sessions.

Then reap the rewards by relaxing in the steam room or the Jacuzzi.  If your swimming pool/ leisure centre doesn’t have these facilities then why not buy some aromatherapy oils and have a long soak in the tub when you get home.

Calorie burning tip:  work hard 
It’s very easy to slip into a relaxing breast stroke and to stop at the end of each length for a gossip.  So save the gossip for the Jacuzzi and set yourself a challenge:

  • Double the number of lengths that you swim before resting
  • Swim every other length at a sprint pace
  • Swim every other length in a more challenging stroke i.e. front crawl
  • At every session complete 2 more lengths than the previous session. 

4. Jog, Walk or Cycle in the rain!!! 

It may sound crazy but I recommend getting out into that winter weather.  It can be thoroughly invigorating to run, walk or cycle in the elements, trust me, and it’s totally free. 

You need to be in the right frame of mind though, so if you’re feeling brave here’s the challenge:

  • Make a play list of your favourite music – choose the tracks that make you feel invincible. 
  • Wrap up so that you are feeling nice and warm.  Wear layers so that you can strip off as your body temperature rises.  And you can always wear less next time if you’ve overdone it.  This might mean thermal tops, waterproofs, woolly hats, welly boots (although probably not if you’re jogging or cycling!) etc…
  • Warm up in the house by doing 3-5 minutes on any exercise equipment that you have, completing the warm up on one of your exercise DVDs, or run up the stairs a few times until you feel your heart rate increase and your blood pumping.  At this point you may wish to shed a layer before heading outside.
  • Finally, find your inner child.  You are going out into the wind and the rain and I want you to run, walk or cycle through the puddles and the wet grass and to enjoy it!  You will get wet and muddy, and when you get home you’ll strip down in your kitchen and chuck your clothes straight into the washing machine.  Honestly, it is such a buzz to run in the rain.  You’ll feel exhilarated and youthful!

Top Tip 1: 
Can’t bring yourself to get out there on your own?  Why not join a beginners running club? This is a sociable and structured way to get your self out there.  And the only feeling better than a sense of personal achievement is that which is shared with others. To find your nearest club in England check out the British Athletics website.

5. Work-Out to Exercise DVDs

For those of you who are still working up to leaving the house why not get back into your exercise DVDs?  And if they’re not really motivating you, go and buy a new one or swap your DVDs with friends so you’ve got some new ideas to work with.

The benefit of exercising this way is that you can do it in the comfort of your own home.  The difficulty with exercising this way is that it can always be put off until another day.

So why not schedule it into your diary so there’s no chance of avoiding/accidentally forgetting about your work out.  Also, just because no one is watching you doesn’t mean that you can cut corners and skip bits.

6. Join a Gym 

Lots of gyms will offer you a health and fitness assessment as a part of your membership package.  This will take the shape of an MOT for your body and provide you with your blood pressure, body fat percentage, body mass index and weight.

Armed with this information the fitness instructors will design a fitness program that, if followed, will ensure that you achieve your exercise goals.  The package usually includes a work out with a fitness instructor so that he/she can demonstrate each exercise to you and answer any of your questions.

Having a start point, clear guidance and access to a professional will really increase your chances of success.

Top tip:  An exercise program should be challenging.  However, as your body adapts to the workout you will start to find that it gets easier.  At this point it is time to ask for a program update.  It is important to continually challenge your body if you want to see results.  Sticking with a comfortable exercise program will cause your progress to plateau.

Top Tip 2:  
If your motivation is lacking why not book in for a consultation with a Personal Trainer?  Most offer a free session which is designed to instruct you on the best way to achieve your health goals.  A good Personal Trainer will help you to increase your confidence and achieve your goals through offering sound exercise and nutritional advice.  Qualified Personal Trainers should be registered with the Register of Exercise Professionals and be trained to Level 3 standard.

Sessions can cost anything from £15 and £60 per hour depending what part of the country you live in.  Costs can be reduced by arranging sessions with a friend.   

Top Tip 3:
Gym membership fees vary.  Some gyms allow you to pay as and when you use the gym, whereas others only let you use the facility if you sign up for the year.  Annual membership can cost £20 to £60 per month on average depending on where you live.  Facilities that call themselves a health club or spa will generally charge more.  To get the best deal buy your membership at the end of the month as the gym will have targets that they need to hit and better deals should be available.  The sales team may not be forth coming about discounted prices so you may have to barter with them.  Another option is to request that they knock off any admin fee that exists.  

7. Group Work Outs 

Book into a class for an energetic session to wake you up on those cold winter mornings.  The best way to start the day and blow the cobwebs away is with some exercise.

The key to success is to arrange to meet a friend at the class.  You will both be relying on each other to turn up and that guilt inducing pressure is just what you need to get you out of your warm bed in the morning.

Since you’re up let’s make the session count and really burn some calories with a fast and furious workout i.e circuit training, Boxersize or Spinning.

Top Tip 4:
If you are going to sustain an early morning workout I recommend that you catch up with your sleep at the other end of the day with some early nights.  Your body needs time to rest and repair.  Without adequate recovery time exercise increases your stress levels.

8. Take up a Seasonal Sport 

Embrace the changing climate and book yourself onto a course of skiing, snowboarding or ice skating lessons.  Wrapping up warm is the name of the game with these activities so there’s no need to fear the cold.

Taking lessons will give you a structured approach that will ensure results and a sense of achievement.   Each of these pursuits requires you to coordinate the distribution of your bodyweight in order to stay upright.  Sound challenging?  Good, it’s meant to be.  If it’s challenging then it is exercise.  You’ll be burning calories, strengthening and toning your core and leg muscles, improving your heart and lung function and having vast amount of fun doing it.

Other activities which involve wrapping up warm or exercising indoors include:

  • Martial Arts or Self defence Classes – improves strength, muscle tone and confidence.
  • Dance lessons – burns calories, increases core strength, posture and coordination.
  • Horse riding lessons – increases strength, posture and coordination.
  • Netball – burns calories, improves reflexes and heart and lung function.

Top Tip 5: 
Choose an activity that you enjoy as you are more likely to commit to it and benefit from it.  If exercise is fun then you’ll go back for more.

8. Stay Hydrated 

Remember to drink enough fluids to stay hydrated.  It’s easy to drink less in the winter because it’s cold, but your body still needs water to function properly.

As a guide you require approximately 1.5 litres to 2.5 litres of fluid from food and drink sources per day and an additional 500mls per 30 minutes of exercise.

9. Write an Exercise Diary 

And finally, write an exercise diaryand describe how you feel on days when you have exercised compared to days when you haven’t.

Exercise will make you feel invigorated, alert and ready for the next challenge of the day.  In comparison, ‘lazy days’ will give you that sluggish unfulfilled feeling that leaves you questioning your self worth.  But don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself.  Good luck and have an energetic winter.

Don’t Let the Winter Blues Take Control

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