Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Winter Is Coming... 5 Obstacles to Keeping Fit in the Cold Months

I'll confess, I'm not actually a Game of Thrones fan.

But when I woke up yesterday, it was 35 degrees out. Frost covered the windshields of the cars. The dog didn't want to go out to pee. A far cry from the balmy weather we had in New Jersey last week.

Let's face it: Winter's coming, like it or not.

And that can put a real damper on your whole fitness and nutrition regimen. The most obvious problem is that you can't -- or won't -- go outside to exercise. But that's not the only obstacle. It's harder to get out of your warm bed in the winter months. It's dark when you get up and dark when you leave work. You're less likely to eat healthy options. And that doesn't even account for the holidays.

Problem One: It's Too Cold to Go Outside
Every Regular Guy has his own breaking point here. Roughly speaking, I won't run outdoors if it's below 25 degrees. But really, the issue is gear. You have to wear the right stuff to keep warm.

  • Layers: Your mom was right about this one. Multiple layers keep the warm in. I'll go with a long-sleeve shirt plus a heavy sweatshirt, and long pants plus a base layer of long johns. 
  • Hat: On a day like today, starting at 35 and headed upward, I'll use an '80s-style headband to keep my ears warm. But when it's really cold, I opt for a regular old winter cap.
  • Gloves: If your hands are cold, you'll never feel warm. It's worth springing for moisture-wicking athletic gloves, and a bonus if they have the smartphone fingertip so you don't ever have to take them off.
Be particularly wary of "breathable" fabrics such as fleece. They're two-way streets, and if it's windy, you're going to freeze. And understand that the added weight plus reduced range of motion is going to impact your performance.

Problem Two: The Bed's Nice and Cozy
For most Regular Guys, getting that seven to eight hours' of sleep is tough no matter what. And when it's cold out, all you want to do is hit snooze, pull up the blankets and enjoy a few more precious minutes of shut-eye. But that makes it easy to get into a rut where it's been days or even weeks without exercise.

  • Get Your Gear Ready the Night Before: Yeah, it's cold out there, but at least if your gym clothes are right by the bed, you won't be fumbling around for 10 minutes in the cold.
  • Set Your Thermostat's Timer: Make sure the heat comes on at least a few minutes before you need to get up. It's at least a little easier to put your feet on the floor if it's not 58 degrees.
  • Have Your Coffee Ready to Go: I enjoy a few ounces of Joe before a workout -- enough to warm me and perk me up, but not so much it sloshes around. Don't stand there tired and shivering while you're scooping the grounds into the basket. Get it ready the night before.
  • Get to Bed at a Decent Hour: You really need at least seven hours' sleep a night. Count back from when you need to get up. That's when you need to go to bed. It's hard enough to get out of bed in the cold -- don't make it harder. That's what DVRs are for.

Problem Three: It's Always Dark
Even if it's not frigid out, another problem with winter is the lack of daylight. Not only is it a safety issue, there are mental and physical issues to deal with.

  • Safety: There are many reflective and lighted products out there. If you're going to be on the streets in the dark, get something to make yourself more visible. I wear a reflective vest, but there are also lightweight lights you can wear. Avoid trails and uneven footing in the dark, too.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder Is Real: It's not as easy in the winter, but make a point of getting a little daylight. Go out for a walk at lunch if you can. Get that vitamin D!

Problem Four: Limited Food Options
Gone are those warm summer nights cooking on the grill. Those lean chicken breasts and steaks have given way to stews, casseroles and heavy sauces. But it doesn't have to be all bad.

  • Good Cookware Helps: There's nothing wrong with using a little oil to sautee your food. But use a good, heavy-gauge skillet that you can get good and hot.
  • Embrace Winter Veggies: Now's a great time to cook with squash and potatoes.
  • Stew and Chili Are Healthy: Lean protein, veggies and beans, all in a pot. Season it the way you love! Yum!
  • Breakfast Is Breakfast: Do you normally eat a healthy breakfast? Your healthy cereal is still there. Eggs are available year-round. Start the day right, at least.

Problem Five: The Holidays
The holiday season is festive. There are parties and gatherings all over the place. That's a great thing. The year is winding down, and it's time to enjoy a little bit. But all that jolly can get in the way of your fitness goals.

  • You're Going to Be Busy: Start planning now for when you're going to be tied up with family gatherings, cooking and cleaning, travel, or whatever. There's room in your schedule, but you have to map it out a little more.
  • All. That. Turkey.: Accept it now: You're going to overeat. It's a celebration. It's OK. It's good, even. Go ahead, enjoy. Just factor it into your overall plan. Try and shave a few calories earlier in the week. See if you can't fit in a little more cardio. But remember, family and friends are always more important.
  • Hangovers: Hangover workouts suck. But they are restorative. Make sure you get yourself rehydrated before you head out, and go into it with reasonable expectations. You're not going to set PRs. But you'll be glad you made the effort -- even though you really didn't want to.

But There Are Some Great Parts of Winter
Come on, the winter isn't all bad! Here are some great things about keeping fit when it gets cold out.

  • Your aerobic systems work best when it's around 40 degrees, or even a little cooler.
  • You don't have to worry about what to wear -- you need it all!
  • Snow runs are fun -- if you're careful.
  • The gym is empty. Those other cats are staying snug in their beds.
  • If you have a canine running partner like I do, you can actually go more than a couple miles.
  • No bugs.

I Want to Hear From You!
What's the toughest part of keeping fit in winter for you? How do you cope? What strategies do you use to get past the obstacles? What advice would you give me about my hatred of cold weather? Comment below, or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter!

And please, if you find this article helpful, funny, entertaining or even a little educational, pass it along to a friend!

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