Don’t be a Couch Potato!
How to Keep Active During the Winter Months
by Kirsten Falcone, RN
Hilbert College Wellness Center
If you are like me, I keep active during the warmer months, but when the cold hits, it’s difficult to resist cocooning in my space and waiting it out until spring. But, did you know that lack of exercise is one of the biggest causes of mental health problems like depression and anxiety, and physical health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, some types of cancer, and much more?
On the flip side, regular exercise can actually improve your immune system, lift your mood, keep all your bodily systems in order, decrease the incidence of disease, and increase your life expectancy. Physically fit people do not need as many prescription or over-the-counter drugs, and they have far fewer doctor visits. You are not in college to not do well, so it is a benefit to you to take care of yourself, because proper exercise can help you in every area of your life, including your grades!
There are three main categories of exercise. They are aerobic, strength training, and stretching. Aerobic exercise increases your heart rate. Some of the common ways you can achieve this are by walking briskly, jogging and swimming. (During the winter, though, it is difficult to safely go for a walk or jog, and it is challenging to find a swimming pool.) Strength training is usually done by lifting weights or performing “body-weight” exercises, such as push-ups. Stretching is important to increase flexibility and range of motion, as well as increase the blood circulation to your muscles and joints, thus reducing injury.
Here are some ideas to help you pull through the winter months:
- Find an accountability partner. On days when you just have no ambition to burn some calories, an accountability partner can help you resist the urge to wait until tomorrow. Conversely, you can help your accountability partner in the same area. Pick someone who has the same goals as you do, such as losing 10 lbs. by Easter, or simply because it makes you feel healthier.
- Visit the gym. On Hilbert Campus, that is located at the Hafner Recreation Center. http://www.hilberthawks.com/sports/2013/9/9/Facilities_0909135001.aspx?tab=weightroom.
- Do calisthenics in your dorm room. Youtube has many exercise videos available, but you can start out with one like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHyGqsPOUHs.
- Run up and down your dorm stairs for 20 minutes, 3 times per week.
- Park on the far side of the parking lot, and walk the extra distance (provided your footwear has good treads to tackle icy conditions).
- Take up a winter sport, such as cross-country or downhill skiing, snowshoeing or sledding.
- When the conditions are good, you can still go for a brisk walk. 20-30 minutes, three times per week is a good start.
- Extend the warm-weather sports you enjoy, but wear a couple extra layers of clothes.
- If you can’t make it to the gym, invest in some dumbbells, and use them in your dorm room. Or you can use ordinary everyday objects, such as water bottles.
- Jumping rope is a great aerobic activity. Here is a good beginner video you can try: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NIvRAaOdlQ
- Use an exercise ball. An exercise ball is large enough to be used in place of a desk chair, so sitting on it will improve posture. Plus, there are many great strength-training exercises you can learn. Many people swear by these for keeping their core strong.
- Perform crunches, lunges, chair dips, push-ups and more in the privacy of your dorm room.
- Take a yoga class. Yoga combines strength and stretching exercises, and many swear by it for its calming effects.
- Use an exercise app. Most smart phones come with one of these. Find out how to use it, and it will help you set and meet your goals.
- Finally, don’t overdo it. If you feel pain, just stop! Pain is a warning sign that you will injure yourself, and an injury is counterproductive to further fitness.
What does the nurse do for fitness? With smart phone in pocket (so I can track how far I went), I take my dog for a walk around the neighborhood for half an hour when the weather cooperates, and I use an elliptical for the days when I cannot face the elements. Every morning I stretch before I do anything else. Strength training will be the next adventure for me. I did not develop these habits overnight, but they have become part of my healthy “couch-potato-less” lifestyle. If I can do this (at my age!), then you certainly can, too!
For more information on keeping active during the winter months, click on these links:
Everyday Health, Exercises you can do anywhere anytime:
WebMD, Lack of Exercise is More Deadly than Obesity:
CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Benefits of Physical Activity:
Money Crashers, Strength Training without Equipment:
Mayo Clinic, How to Stretch:
WebMD, Exercise Ball Moves: