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As the days get shorter and the nights get colder it’s easy to make excuses to skip your workout. But exercising through winter brings so many benefits it’s worth making the effort.
The most obvious reason to keep up your exercise routine is to maintain a healthy weight all year round. Summer is usually the time when people feel pressure to get into a healthy weight range, but winter can actually be an easier time to make it happen. Summer involves festive commitments, constant public holidays, lots of treat opportunities and a general lack of routine. In contrast, the long and uneventful winter months are a great opportunity to get into consistent exercise habits. Winter brings fewer daylight hours and variable weather, making it more difficult to exercise outside safely and comfortably. It’s the perfect time to get the value out of your gym membership and work towards achieving your goals.
Another great benefit of exercise is that it improves your sense of wellbeing at a time of year when you can feel a little flat. As daylight hours decrease the balance between our serotonin and melatonin can shift. Seratonin and melatonin are hormones that regulate various human functions such as sleep, mood and appetite. These temporary imbalances can be levelled out by endorphins, the happy hormones you produce when exercising. Endorphins moderate the appetite and reduce cravings for the carb-packed comfort foods you look for in the winter months when serotonin is lower. Exercise also helps with stress management and sleep quality so that helps your sense of wellbeing too.
A third benefit of exercising through winter is boosting resistance to bugs. Exercise improves immunity by increasing circulation and boosting the cells that attack bacteria. Regular exercisers are generally less vulnerable to illness but everybody gets sick occasionally and sometimes it’s sensible to take the day off exercise. The best way to assess your situation is to apply the “neck check”. If the sickness is above the neck you’re generally safe to exercise. This includes a mild headache, sore or scratchy throat, nasal congestion, sneezing or teary eyes. In this case a little light exercise can stimulate the immune system. If symptoms are below the neck you should definitely take the day off the gym. This includes chest congestion, stomach cramps or vomiting, diarrhea, general aches and fever. Some illnesses require all the strength of the immune system and can be aggravated by the dehydration and muscle fatigue that occurs with exercise. It’s better to stay home for two days than try to be a hero and end up home for two weeks of comfort-eating on the couch.
When you’re choosing the right type of winter exercise it’s important to begin with something you enjoy. If you’re feeling flat in body or spirit you might find that a low or moderate intensity option is a good place to start. High intensity training is the most efficient way to burn calories but exercise is a stress on the body and in some cases it can be a negative stress rather than a positive one. It is difficult to gain physical condition from high intensity training if you are under stress, sleep deprived or not 100% well. As long as you aren’t below-the-neck-sick then all movement is good movement. So start with something that feels manageable and build up from there.
Winter is a tough time to get motivated to exercise but it’s worth it for all the benefits to your body and soul. Appropriate exercise can help you maintain health, confidence and vitality through every season.
Channel Magazine: Issue 77 June 2017