Johanna Doyle, a senior musculoskeletal physiotherapist, has exercise tips to keep you motivated as the we head into the depths of winter
With the temperature dropping and the evenings getting shorter, it’s important not to let the weather put you off your exercise routine or prevent you from starting a new programme ahead of all the indulgence that surrounds Christmas. We know the importance of exercise for our physical and mental health, but are you getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, as recommended by the HSE?
Moderate intensity is described by the HSE as an activity that increases your breathing and heart rate, but would still allow you to hold a conversation, such as a brisk walk, gardening or a bike ride (mostly on the flat).
There is also evidence that moderate exercise can have a positive effect on our immune system, which has never been so important. Here are some tips to help you to stay on track and avoid the temptation to hibernate.
The old saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing couldn’t be more true when it comes to exercising outdoors in the winter.
Invest in layered clothing that will keep moisture away from your body as you sweat, as sweat left on the skin can cause you to feel colder. This will also allow you to remove outer layers as you warm up.
Getting outside in nature not only provides you with a free training ground, but it can also help mental wellbeing and has been shown to improve sleep.
Research shows that making a commitment with a running group, or a weekly power walk with a friend, makes us much more likely to stick with our plans. As well as making you more accountable, it can also be a great way to maintain social contact while so many of us are working from home or avoiding crowded settings.
On the days when the weather really isn’t making it easy to get outdoors, there are other indoor alternatives. As a result of the pandemic, most gyms and studios are now offering online classes you can do in the comfort of your own home, such as Pilates, yoga, Zumba, aerobics and everything in between.
You can also find an endless selection of exercise videos on YouTube to match your fitness level from high-intensity interval training workouts, to a slower paced tai chi class.
Whether you’re exercising for fitness, to manage your weight, to clear your head or all of the above, try to make a goal to help you stay focused. Whatever your goal is, make it SMART; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound. So, to achieve the recommended guidelines, your goal could be to walk or jog for 30 minutes on five days a week.
On a Sunday, try to go through your diary for the week ahead and schedule how you will fit your exercise sessions in. Try to vary the activity and intensity and allow for rest days according to how busy your schedule is. Then commit to the activity like you would to any other appointment in your diary.
Winter means shorter days which can make it more difficult and less appealing to exercise outdoors in the dark. Getting out for a brisk walk, a cycle or a jog at lunchtime is a great way of boosting your mood, increasing your afternoon’s productivity and ticking off one of your exercise sessions.
The best way to ensure you stay fit is to make regular exercise a habit. Just as when we are forming any new habit, the key to success is repetition.
If you were to make time for exercise every day, then it is much more likely to become part of your daily routine.
Using fitness wearables or apps that track your activity can be a great motivator to keep you moving. Apps such as Strava will allow you to track your progress and set goals for swimming, cycling or running. It will also allow you to compete against friends or other users to help provide inspiration for those solo sessions.
You are more likely to sustain a muscular injury in colder temperatures, so make sure you wrap up to keep your muscles warm. You can also prepare your body for exercise by doing an active warm-up or easing into the activity gradually.
Getting up early to train on a cold dark morning can often be the first hurdle. By placing your alarm out of reach and having your kit ready the night before, this could make all the difference and help you kick the day off with some exercise.
Johanna Doyle is a senior musculoskeletal physio at the Beacon Hospital