Beat the Lazy Season
Stay on Track
Oct. 11, 2001 -- In the summer of 1999, Liz Chandler was "a
workout fiend." She got up to go swimming three to four times a week, took
yoga classes on two mornings in between, and ran in the evenings with her
husband. Occasionally, they'd hike on the weekends, too. Chandler, a
41-year-old stylist for commercial photography, felt so fit she was
contemplating running a marathon. But then, when daylight saving ended, she
found it hard to get out of bed and by nightfall, she was more interested in
curling up with a book than running. "And it wasn't just me," says
Chandler. "I noticed my husband wasn't making it to the gym before work
like he used to."
The winter months can be brutal for some people's fitness
routines, says Bradley Cardinal, PhD, an exercise physiologist at Oregon State
University. He recently prepared a case study of a man in his mid 30s who lives
in the northern U.S. Each year, the man was active from July through November,
but then found his activity level would drop off for the rest of the year.
While Cardinal cautions against reading too much from the study of one person,
he believes that most people's activity levels fluctuate, largely because of
environmental factors. "It's a lot easier to get out and exercise when the
weather is warm," he says.
Working Through Colder Weather
If you're an outdoor exerciser who has slacked off in the past
when the temperature dropped, you may not have been giving yourself enough time
to acclimate. "When people who live in Washington, D.C., go on vacation to
Florida in the winter, it's harder for them to exercise because they're not
used to the heat," says Richard Cotton, PhD, an exercise physiologist and
spokesman for the American Council on Exercise. "And the reverse is true,
too. It takes time to get used to different temperatures, no matter if you're
going from hot to cold or vice versa."
To acclimate, of course, you'll have to keep working out
through the cold -- a bit of a Catch-22. It will be easier to make yourself go
outside, though, says Cotton, if you warm up inside first. "Take five to 10
minutes and do some low level aerobic exercise like jogging in place or doing
jumping jacks," he advises. "That way, when you step outside, you'll
already be warm." Dressing properly can also help. Wear layers so that you
can peel them off as your body temperature increases.
Think of Gym Alternatives
Some people, like Chandler's husband, are dedicated gym-goers,
and they shouldn't be affected much by the weather. However, the lingering
darkness in the morning and the early evenings can sap even the hardiest
gym-bunny's motivation to hit the health club. If that's your problem, you may
need a contingency plan. Cardinal himself has exercise equipment at home -- a
stair climber, stationary bike, and exercise videos that he rotates through --
to use when it's hard to get outdoors or to the gym. If you do exercise at
home, though, do whatever you can to make it entertaining, says Cotton. You
might, for instance, place a TV in front of a home treadmill so you don't get
This is the time, too, to call on your friends. Even if you
usually exercise alone, you may need someone to help keep you motivated. Many
studies have shown that social support helps keep people active, says James F.
Sallis, PhD, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University who
studies exercise motivation. Reconfiguring your schedule is another possible
solution. If cold and darkness discourages you from morning exercise, try to
take a brisk walk or an exercise class during your lunch hour.