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How to stay fit and feel great this winter

Winter can be a hard time to stay motivated to exercise – but it doesn’t have to be!  

There are plenty of ways to stay in shape even when it's cold outside. Staying fit through the winter doesn’t have to be difficult. With the right approach, anyone can stay active all year long.  

Are you an indoor or outdoor person? I’m both. My weekly workout schedule includes strength and cardio work indoors at home, and walking outdoors. Whatever your preference, when it comes to fitness there is something for everyone. 

I enjoy power-walking outdoors year-round, and each season offers its own benefits. But there are a few reasons I like walking in the winter. My primary reason is that getting daylight during winter’s shorter days helps me feel better – physically and mentally. 

I also find it easier and more comfortable to exercise when it’s cool versus in the heat and humidity. This may sound surprising since I’m not a fan of winter and cold weather. But if I bundle up in layers and wear the right things for my outdoor workouts, the cold doesn’t bother me. Since I’m working at a moderate or higher intensity, I work up a sweat even on cold days. 

However, I don’t walk outdoors in bitter cold, windy, or wet conditions. There are countless indoor exercises to do instead.  

Stay warm with indoor workouts

If the weather is bad or you dislike the cold, don’t let that stop you from staying in shape over the winter. You can get an excellent workout, whether it’s at a fitness facility or in the comfort and convenience of your home.  

Here are some ideas: 

  • Take an online exercise class. I’m leading 2 free online classes sponsored by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) Raleigh location: Chair Fit and Wellness in Motion. They are open to all. 
  • Do strength training at home with dumbbells or resistance band workouts
  • Get a home workout machine, such as an elliptical, stationary bike, or treadmill. If you’re looking for a deal, used equipment can often be found in online classifieds and thrift stores. 
  • Use your body weight. These exercises, such as push-ups, squats, and lunges, require no equipment. 
  • Exercising with workout videos is also an inexpensive or free option. Just be sure it’s led by a qualified instructor. 
  • Try indoor pickle ball, basketball, skating, or swimming if there’s a local facility. 
  • Join an in-person group exercise or dance class at a gym, studio or community center. Check with your local parks and recreation department for classes. 
  • Consider working with a certified personal trainer. This could be 1-on-1 or small group training, either online or at a gym. Your trainer will create a customized workout plan based around your goals, physical condition and preferences; and will provide guidance, support, and accountability. 

Tips for winter outdoor workouts

These strategies will help you with staying fit and feeling well even though the temperatures are dropping. 

Get morning or midday sunlight

This is especially needed this time of year since it gets dark so early. Exposure to natural sunlight boosts the body's vitamin D production, helping to ward off winter depression (seasonal affective disorder) and promoting more restful sleep. It really helps me. Make this a regular habit and see what a difference it makes. 

If morning exercise outdoors doesn’t work for you or your schedule, then make time at lunch or in the afternoon for a walking break to get sunshine and fresh air. About 30 minutes daily is recommended, but a smaller amount is beneficial, too. 

Make a plan and schedule

Decide what exercise you will do and when. If you’re new to fitness, focus on finding something enjoyable that you will be able to stick with. Would you prefer an indoor or outdoor workout? Or a combination that incorporates both into the week?  

It’s fine to start small and keep it simple. Remember, it’s not about doing things perfectly, it’s just about doing something – and being consistent. 

Dress for success

If you’re exercising outdoors, layer up. Avoid cotton clothing because once it gets wet with sweat, it stays wet. That’s uncomfortable in the cold and can lead to chilling and chaffing. Choose moisture-wicking materials instead, including undergarments. You may prefer wool socks rather than cotton, as well.  

A hat or other head covering is also important, because body heat radiates from the head. I like wearing a wide fleece headband that covers my ears to keep them warm. Also be sure to wear lip balm and mittens or gloves to avoid chapping. 

Watch for slippery surfaces in winter, and don’t wear tennis shoes in those conditions. Get shoes made for outdoors, like trail shoes. 

Wear lights and reflective clothing if walking or running pre-dawn or in the evening. I use flexible light-up bands that wrap around my arm or ankle. 

Do a warm-up first

Prepare your body for working out. I like to do my warm-ups indoors. Then, I start exercising as soon as I go outside. The first few minutes outdoors may feel chilly, but I quickly become acclimated as my body gets warmer from exercise. 

Stay hydrated

Sweat evaporates faster in cold air, so you may not feel it as much as exercising in the heat. Replace body fluids in the cold, just as in the heat. Keep your water handy. 

Be safe

The windchill factor can be significant in determining if it is safe to exercise. Be aware of the outdoor conditions to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. 

People with certain medical conditions – such as asthma and arthritis – may find that cold weather causes symptoms to flare, and that indoor workouts are better. People with cardiovascular disease or hypertension may also need to use caution exercising in the cold. If you have a medical condition, check with your health care provider about what is appropriate for you. 

Maintain momentum all winter

Think of your fitness program as your winter project; something to focus on all season. It can be fun to try something new, whether it’s a class, gym, or a different type of exercise.  

Some people also find it motivating to do a fitness challenge or set a goal. Just make sure it’s realistic for the time frame. Remember to celebrate big and small achievements.  

Above all, focus mostly on building the habit of regular exercise. If you do that, the results will follow. And you’ll become a healthier, happier, more active you!

authors photo

Michelle Rogers

Michelle Rogers

Certified Personal Trainer

Michelle Rogers is a certified personal trainer who specializes in healthy living for adults over 40. She leads classes and workshops online at Reachable Fitness, her virtual exercise studio. Find out more at and connect on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @MRhealthyliving.

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