Even if you live where the climate is relatively mild, winter will see the sun retreat and your days shorten. Everyone feels the lack of sun. Although many people suffer a form of the blues that goes beyond low moods and turns into depression, you don’t have to be one of these individuals to notice grey winter skies affecting your attitude.
Whether you suffer from depression or not, exercise is an important element in the battle against seasonal sadness and anxiety. In fact, exercise works all year round to balance a person’s moods naturally.
How to Beat the Winter Blues
First of all, don’t stop exercising. If you maintain a fitness routine that took you outside and ice or snow is stopping you from carrying on, adapt the exercise or take it indoors. Switch to something practical: skiing, snow shoeing, or swimming.
An example of an adapted exercise would be running. Find a gym with treadmills and get on board. On high-end machines, you can adjust speed by tiny increments and also raise the incline. Consider investing in a treadmill for home (magnetic treadmills are very affordable and convenient for small spaces) and putting on a DVD featuring natural landscapes full of sun and flowers. Pretend to run through these landscapes, imagining the aroma of flowers, the sound of birds, and the feel of real sun on your face.
Runners will often stay out of wilder country trails during icy, snowy months, moving their run to the sidewalks. Special shoe grips can be strapped around your running shoes to prevent slips on ice and snow. The same goes for walkers: walking can be an arduous exercise when wading through snow, like walking through water or sand. While wearing heavy winter boots, walking asks more of your muscles, heart, and lungs than it does when you cover the same route in summer.
1. Start the Day Early
The earlier you get your metabolism started, the easier it is to keep up that level of energy throughout the day. Conversely, if you curl up in a ball on Saturday morning because it’s dark, cold, and gloomy outside, expect to feel lethargic until you go to bed and to experience irritability. Force yourself to think of something that gets you moving each morning and this attitude will become a routine you don’t think about anymore.
You don’t have to begin with an early morning run: extreme cold, especially with a biting wind, would put anyone off. This could be the time to fit in some breathing exercises. Spend a few minutes remembering how to breathe in a healthy, relaxing way. Let air out through the nose and mouth or, if you have a cold, breathing in through your mouth might be easier. Either way, set a rhythm. Think about where you are right now. Forget about the tasks ahead of you or anything that is causing stress. Focus on a moment: this moment.
2. Find the Sun
Sunshine becomes a rarity in some parts of the world during winter. In others, temperatures well below freezing keep people inside for safety reasons. Either way, the sun disappears from our lives and we miss it. Sunshine gives us a mental jolt, an emotional lift, and is good for our physical well-being as well. You won’t get all the vitamin D you need in winter naturally so take a supplement, but look for opportunities to feel the sun on your face for real.
Sit near a window. Bundle up and go outside, even if only for ten minutes. Natural light has been shown to improve the productivity and morale of office workers, the mental state of people with depression, and everyone’s health and attitude generally. Once exercise moves into the gym, it is easy to forget about the sun, but turn to the light and away from the screen of your training machine once in a while.
3. Working Out with Others
Another feature of our modern lifestyles, something which seems to get worse all the time, is our desire to do things alone. We crave, covet, and hoard our time without other people. Sometimes it becomes a force of habit: we forget how to hold a conversation and how to compromise with others.
As we lose these abilities, we also lose a part of ourselves. Yes, you want to exercise at your own pace, but what good is that if you can’t get out the door? Having a commitment to meet someone at 6 in the morning at the gym or on the road where you’re going to start your run that morning is a major incentive to put on those running shoes.
Men are especially bad at forming friendships. Women fall into them easily, but men often seek their own company. If they are competitive too, this makes it difficult to imagine going for a run with someone whose pace might be slower or faster.
But as you talk with that partner, the time goes by quickly. Also, talking while running helps to prevent the build-up of phlegm. When that starts, you clear your throat regularly for the first several minutes of running, which makes it tough to get into a breathing rhythm and feels uncomfortable. You don’t have to talk about running. Bring up other, enjoyable subjects like movies, holidays, family, and books. If the other runner is faster, use that as an incentive to push harder.
4. Warm Muscles
It’s not just grey in winter, but cold and sometimes damp. Humidity and temperature vary, but one thing is for sure: these conditions can seep into your joints and bones. Stretching is always important, but it might be extra important to stretch prior to an exercise routine during winter.
Cold muscles get hurt more easily than warm ones. If you get laid up with an injury in winter, beating the blues will be that much harder. Prevent injury by spending just 5 to 10 minutes stretching the muscles you plan to use. Do the same after a workout as you have always done to restore tired muscles after they have worked hard. Make sure to read my other post “the ultimate guide to stretching” for more info.
Got any other tips to beat the winter workout blues? Feel free to share them below!