If you’re struggling to maintain any kind of workout routine right now, we promise you’re not alone. Dragging yourself to the gym or bundling up for an outdoor run can feel downright impossible during the dark, cold months of winter. And on top of the 4 p.m. sunsets and frigid real feels, many people are also suffering from seasonal affective disorder, an energy-zapping, fatigue-inducing mood disorder that can cause depression and anxiety. According to the American Psychiatric Association, it affects 5 percent of adults in the U.S. every year.
Of course, one of the best ways to combat SAD is with—you guessed it—exercise. (Oh, the irony.) In addition to elevating your mood with the release of happy hormones like endorphins and serotonin, exercise can also help improve sleep, increase energy and reduce stress. So, lacing up and getting out there, especially during the colder months, is pivotal to maintaining our health year-round.
Since staying active this time of year requires a bit more motivation than usual, we tapped Lexi duPont, a professional skier who’s conquered mountains in Alaska and the Arctic Circle, for her go-to cold weather tips. As someone who thrives in these sub-zero temps, she tells us, “Winter is when I really come alive.” Here are her top tips for staying motivated during the coldest days of the year.
1. Be consistent with your sleep routine
Maintaining your daily energy levels is key to a healthy workout routine, no matter what the date on the calendar says. And with the go, go, go mentality our culture is accustomed to, we don’t get too many opportunities to refuel the tank. One of the main ways our body hits the reset button? Sweet, sweet sleep. “Go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day,” duPont advises, “and make sure you’re getting a full eight hours. Our bodies have more energy when we’re consistent [with our sleep] and well-rested.”
To make it easier on yourself, pick a bedtime and wake time that are realistic and match your current lifestyle. If you know you’re not a morning person, a 5 a.m. alarm is destined to be snoozed. Start at a reasonable hour and work your way back as your body becomes adjusted. Soon enough, you’ll be craving the consistency of a structured sleep routine.
2. Water before coffee, always
Did you know our body’s pH levels are typically more acidic when we first wake up? And though we naturally have a built-in buffer system to aid in regulation, our individual levels can easily get out of whack based on what we consume and the environment we’re in. A proper pH balance is crucial for almost every bodily function you can think of, including your immune system and muscle activation. If you guzzle down a pot of highly acidic coffee first thing in the morning, you’re just adding fuel to the fire. “Drink lots of water before you go for the coffee,” duPont says, adding that you might want to skip the freezing cold stuff right when you wake up. “Ice cold water in the winter actually slows down our digestive system,” she explains, “so room temperature or even warm water is super hydrating and will help keep us energized.” Add some lemon or ginger for an extra alkaline (aka acid fighting) boost.
3. Dress the part
More often than not, getting dressed and showing up is the hardest part of any workout. Why not make it a bit more enjoyable by treating yourself to a thermal running jacket or cozy cold-weather legging? If you’re heading outside, stick to fleece-lined, insulating layers that add warmth without the bulk, and prioritize keeping your head, hands and feet covered above all else. You’ll look the part and feel confident knowing you’re prepared.
If you’re a skier like duPont, staying loose and warm on the slopes is key to a successful performance. She currently loves the Eddie Bauer Fineline Jacket and Bib to get her body (and mind) primed and ready. “This jacket and pant combo is super lightweight, incredibly waterproof and so easy to move in. Every time I put it on it’s as if I step into this badass version of myself that can do anything. And oh man, does it feel good to stand in our power and have that much fun.”
4. Be grateful & just get out there
Speaking of showing up…“Just get outside!” duPont urges. “I try to get outside as much as possible throughout the year.” So ignore the inner critic that’s full of excuses and reframe your mindset from I have to do this to I get to do this. “Mother Nature is putting on a show, even in the winter, and she wants you to enjoy her. The fresh air is the best thing we can do for ourselves and our motivation.” And she’s not wrong. That rush of cold air can be an instant pick-me-up—stronger than a can of Celsius or a shot of espresso. Plus, if the sun is shining, your body will be triggered to produce vitamin D, which aids in both bone health and immune support. And did we mention you’ll burn more calories exercising in the cold? Your body’s already working harder than usual to maintain its core temperature. Throw in a few hill sprints and your metabolism will kick into overdrive.
5. Pump the jams
ICYMI, music has magical powers. “Music is a huge motivator to move our bodies. Make a pump-up mix or find a groovy one on Spotify,” duPont says. We suggest cranking the tunes while you’re still at home, getting dressed or stretching it out to help hype you up and put you in the right headspace. Whether you’re feeling ‘90s hip-hop or the Encanto soundtrack, exercising to your favorite tunes will help you get more out of your workout both mentally and physically.
6. Put it on paper
When in doubt, set a tangible goal to hold yourself accountable. If you love running but struggle to get out there past the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, try signing up for a winter or early spring race. There’s nothing like a hefty entry fee to keep you motivated to do well, plus having something to look forward to will put way more meaning behind each mile. Though most races fall in the summer and autumn months, warm weather locations offer a number of options from December to May. Seek out unexplored cities and make it a vacation. The more you have invested, the bigger the commitment, and the bigger the commitment, the more likely you are to stick with it (that’s science people).
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