The days are shorter. The weather is colder. Its dark when you drive to work, and its dark when you drive home. When you have free time, youre tempted to use it for napping, watching television and eating comfort foods.
The last thing you want to do in the winter is exercise.
Despite the seasons challenges, staying active during this time is possibly more important than staying active during the warmer months, local exercise experts say. Christine Jaegers, fitness and wellness specialist for the City of Cape Girardeau, says individuals gain on average five to seven pounds during the winter. Regular exercise can help prevent unwanted weight gain and set you ahead on any New Years fitness resolutions.
Dr. Jeremy Barnes, health promotion and exercise science instructor at Southeast Missouri State University, says winter exercise is important because people tend to experience more seasonal depression during the wintertime; exercise can help alleviate some of those symptoms.
Sue Nesler, Yoga East owner and certified counselor, echoes this same sentiment when it comes to exercise and mental health.
People can start feeling down and depressed in the winter, especially with the holidays, so staying active can help your mental health, as well, helping you stay focused on something positive, Nesler says.
Numerous research studies have shown exercise improves mental health. For example, Nesler says regular exercise increases oxygen supply to the brain, which will make you feel better physically and mentally during the dark, cold winter months.
Here, Jaegers, Barnes and Nesler provide their tips for remaining active this winter, whether youre at work, home or out and about.
At the office
Illustration by Ciara Potter
Set walking alarms on your phone
Three to five times a day, set an alarm on your phone that reminds you to get up and take a short walking break. Barnes also recommends taking an extended walk during lunchtime, because its the warmest part of the day, and it may be dark outside when you return home from work.
Staying hydrated is important for your overall health, but Nesler says it can also be a way to increase your step count during working hours, because those who drink plenty of water are more likely to leave their desks to use the restroom often. All those steps to and from the restroom can add up!
Use multi-tasking to your bodys benefit
When youre on the phone, walk around the office or stand up. When youre working at your desk, raise and lower your heels or clench your abdominal muscles. Nesler says there are lots of ways to multitask and do light exercises during the work day.
Try a standing desk
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Its easy to sit for hours at work, especially if you have a desk job. However, sitting for long periods of time can negatively impact your health, as its been linked to higher blood pressure and weight gain. This is why Jaegers recommends elevating your computer so you can stand while working. She says stability balls are another great alternative to using a chair at your desk, as they help strengthen your core while you sit.
Switch to walking meetings
The next time youre scheduling a meeting, ask your colleagues if theyre open to talk while walking at a park or downtown. Jaegers says, [Walking meetings] get whoever youre talking to moving, and sometimes, [it helps] you build up that collaboration with your partner or coworker more.
Illustration by Ciara Potter
Embrace opportunistic fitness
There are so many activities in the home that you could incorporate movement into. For example, you can walk or dance around your house while folding laundry, or stretch or do simple yoga poses while watching television. Nesler calls these examples opportunistic fitness, as youre taking the opportunity to move for a few minutes during normal, everyday activities.
Try free online fitness classes
There are thousands of free fitness classes online. Just by searching on YouTube, you can find yoga, pilates, dance and any form of class youd like to try, without breaking open the wallet or leaving your house. Barnes recommends buying inexpensive dumbbells and a yoga mat to take full advantage of the fitness courses available on the internet.
Put fitness equipment in clear view
Keep your weights, yoga mats and other fitness equipment where you can see it. Nesler says youre less likely to use exercise equipment if its in the corner by the closet door. By keeping your equipment in sight, youre keeping their use in mind.
Use chairs and walls as equipment
If you dont have fitness equipment to use, utilize a chair or wall. Jaegers says she teaches a whole class of movements and exercises that can be done in a chair, such as scooting to the edge of the chair and back or doing toe taps. She says wall sits are a great way to build leg strength at home. You can start by sitting on the wall in a squat position for 10 seconds and gradually work your way up to a one-minute wall sit.
Maximize activities of daily living
Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) are activities related to daily life such as putting shoes on, showering and getting out of bed. Jaegers says ADLs help build up your endurance and your strength, and there are ways to maximize these activities in your life. For example, Jaegers says you could fill an empty milk jug with water and practice lifting it up and down. Just by performing simple everyday activities, youre burning calories and keeping your body in motion.
Out and about
Illustration by Ciara Potter
Plan outdoor workouts in advance
Look at the weeks weather forecast on Sunday to plan out your workouts in advance. For example, if Tuesday has a high windchill, plan to do an indoor workout that day and save your outdoor workout for the warmest day of the week. Barnes says this can help people plan accordingly and stay on track with their workout routine.
Find indoor walking spots
When the temperature is too frigid to walk outside, take advantage of the free indoor walking opportunities in Southeast Missouri. Many people enjoy walking around West Park Mall in Cape Girardeau in the winter, but if its too crowded, Jaegers says the Osage Centre is another great free place to walk.
Be smart about layering
If you plan on exercising outside, Barnes stressed the importance of having three layers: a layer thats moisture-wicking or dry-fit closest to skin, a layer that provides insulation in the middle and a layer thats wind and water resistant on the outside. He says its also best to wear waterproof shoes, in case theres slushy snow or rain on the ground.
Burn calories with brisk outdoor walks
If the weather cooperates, put on your layers and go for a brisk walk outside. Nesler says your body has to work harder in the cold, which can help you burn more calories. She also recommends fully warming up for your workout inside before going out into the cold.
Try a group fitness class
Sign up for a group fitness class, and tell your classmates to hold you accountable. Not only will a scheduled fitness routine boost your physical health, Nesler says socializing with others at a class can boost your mental health. There are countless classes available in the area, including yoga classes at Yoga East Healing Arts Studio and fitness classes at the Osage Centre. Jaegers says anyone can try one class at the Osage Centre free of charge.
Five ways to make desserts healthier
It is possible to make all of those desserts healthier during the holiday season. Here are five ways to modify your sugary recipes, with a few tips from Christine Jaegers, fitness and wellness specialist for the City of Cape Girardeau.
1. Swap out sugar for natural sweeteners like agave, honey and maple syrup. Palm sugar and coconut sugars are also healthier alternatives to white, refined sugar.
2. Cut the salt for your recipe in half. This wont impact the flavor much, but will decrease the sodium content.
3. Swap out the oils and fats in your recipe for pumpkin or applesauce.
4. Use dark chocolate or sugar-free dark chocolate in place of milk chocolate.
5. Take half of the white flour and replace the other half with almond flour, whole wheat flour or oat flour. Research which flour works best for your specific recipe first.