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How to avoid the winter workout rut

When the winter weather descends upon us, it’s easy to skimp on our workouts. And who can blame us? It’s colder. It gets darker earlier. We’re wearing more clothing than usual. And it’s so tempting to forgo working out in favor of staying bundled up on the couch with a good book.

But the winter is also the most important time to get your sweat on.

For one thing, carb cravings skyrocket when the days get shorter. Diminished sunlight during the season makes serotonin — the mood-enhancing chemical — in the brain less active. A shortage of serotonin can leave you feeling tired and hungry, which can trigger cravings for comforting carbohydrates. Judith Wurtman, PhD, a former scientist at MIT and co-author of The Serotonin PowerDiet found that carb-cravers with seasonal affective disorder may consume an additional 800 calories or more a day due to their increased cravings for carbohydrates.

Another study from the University of Colorado surveyed a group of 12 women and six men, and examined the changes in their production of ATLPL, a chemical that promotes fat storage, over the summer and the winter. The researchers found that ATLPL production almost doubled during the winter, and dropped during the summer.

Exercise has been shown to combat these wintertime woes.

Numerous studies have linked physical activity with an increase of serotonin production and release. Aerobic exercises, in particular are the most likely to boost serotonin. Scientists have also found that exercise may increase SMLPL, the muscle enzyme that promotes the burning of fat, to offset the fat-promoting effects of ATLPL. And this is on top of exercise’s role in disease prevention, the quality of sleep we get, our energy levels, our sexual drive, and of course, our health.

To help you fight through the wintertime workout woes, and leverage the many benefits of physical activity, here are 5 simple things you can do to encourage and motivate yourself:

JOIN A LEAGUE

If you’re growing weary of the same gym routine, consider joining a local recreational sports league. Cities across the nation offer a variety of men’s, women’s and coed leagues for every season, including volleyball, basketball, softball or even dodgeball. Whether you’re a former college athlete or a relative newcomer, there’s something for everyone. And by joining one of these leagues, not only will you get a great workout, you’ll expand your social network at the same time.

HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE

Sometimes the challenge isn’t the workout itself, it’s starting it in the first place. That’s why a healthy sense of accountability can help give you the motivation you need to make the decision to say “yes!” Try recruiting a workout buddy, joining a running group or logging your workouts in a public setting (maybe even on social media if you are brave enough). And forget those daily weigh-ins on the scale, the number can be deceiving since muscle weighs more than fat. Instead, try taking a photo of yourself every week and tracking your progress in a special album on your smartphone. Another ideas is to choose a training program that you must follow along in order to reach your goal.

STEP OUT OF THE ORDINARY

Trying something new can bring excitement back to your workout routine and give you a fresh perspective. Kettlebell, pilates megaformer, hot yoga, boxing — there is a world of fitness to discover that will help you develop new skills, new muscles and meet new people in a new environment. And that can go a long way towards making exercise part of your daily lifestyle.

MEASURE IT

Start documenting your resting heart rate, blood pressure, weight, percent body fat, and/or circumference measurements to help track your progress over the winter. Seeing change is motivating, particularly as you monitor how your resting heart rate and blood pressure become lower the more in shape you get. Also take into account how your clothes are fitting, how well you are sleeping, and how much energy you have throughout the day.

SET GOALS

Start with short-term goals for every week — how many miles you want to run, the number of workouts you want to complete. Then progress to longer range goals — a certain resting heart rate or completing a half marathon. Make sure the goals you set are realistic so you can adapt your life accordingly. And always be sure to remind yourself that you are setting goals so you can make your health and your well-being a priority.

Header image © Maridav/Shutterstock

Kerry Song

Kerry Song is a writer and producer with a background in economics and finance. Her passion is to create meaningful content that engages and empowers the audience to become more mindful and more compassionate with themselves and with others.

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