The days are growing shorter, there’s a chill in the air, and the leaves are dropping. Fall is here, and winter soon will follow.
This time of the year presents some unique challenges to your health. The shorter days mean waking up in darkness. The skies tend to be gray more often than blue, leading to a dip in mood. And the cold weather means less motivation to go places and do things.
If you’re not careful, it’s easy to spend the entire winter sitting in your PJs while your fitness, health, and productivity lapse. To help you avoid this yearly danger, we’ve put together a list of things you can do to keep your mental and physical health on track during the winter months.
To make this topic easier to discuss, I’ll at times speak of mental and physical health as separate things. However, I want to be clear that your mind is part of your body, and things you do to improve your physical health can also boost your mental health. Ideally, it’s a virtuous cycle.
With that said, here are six things you can do to stay healthy during winter:
Find Exercises You Can Do at Home
When it’s cold, dark, and icy, venturing out of your house to go to the gym can be a struggle. If you find yourself in that situation, the solution is to find exercises you can do at home.
Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- Yoga – The only piece of equipment you need is a foam mat, plus one of the many great instructional videos on YouTube.
- Calisthenics – Want an exercise routine you can do with literally no equipment? Try some good, old-fashioned calisthenics. Here’s a basic routine to start with.
- Pull-ups – Pick up one of these over-the-door pull-up bars and install it in a doorway you frequently pass through.
- Online workout videos – Yoga is just one example of a workout routine you can follow along with from home. Browse YouTube to find the fitness routine of your dreams.
- Stationary bike – You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a brand-name bike or fancy gym membership to get the benefits. As with other types of workouts, there are plenty of guided cycling routines available for free online.
- Home gym – If you have the cash and space, you can build your own home gym with whatever workout equipment you prefer. Just ensure you know how to use the equipment safely!
Find Ways to Get Outside
While it’s possible to stay fit without leaving your house, staying inside all winter isn’t a great idea for your mental health. Even if it’s cloudy and cold, you’ll still benefit from the fresh air and daylight. So it’s best to find ways you can get outside.
As Mr. Money Mustache explains in this classic post, getting outside in winter requires the right clothing and attitude. Generally, when people say it’s “too cold” to go outside, it just means they aren’t properly equipped.
The extent of winter clothing you’ll need depends on how “wintery” it gets where you live. Check out this guide from REI for some useful general principles.
Beyond having the right clothing and attitude, you need a compelling reason to get outside. The best way I’ve found is to have an outdoor winter activity that gets me excited. Here are a few examples:
- Biking – As long as the roads aren’t super icy, you can bike outdoors in winter. In many cases, I find it to be more enjoyable than biking in warm weather since I can shed layers as I heat up during the ride. If you’re looking for more of an adventure, try fat biking in the snow.
- Running – As with biking, running can be more pleasant in winter due to the lower temperatures. Just be sure to watch out for ice hidden under snow.
- Long walks – Walking at night after a fresh snowfall is one of the most peaceful activities I’ve found. The blanket of snow dampens sounds, there are fewer people and cars about, and the world is more tranquil overall.
- Winter sports – Where I live in Colorado, people look forward to winter for the many sports it enables. Skiing and snowboarding are the most well-known examples, but lesser-known sports such as ice climbing are also an option (if you live somewhere cold enough). For more casual fun, try sledding or snow tubing!
Take Seasonal Affective Disorder Seriously
While having the right attitude will make winter more enjoyable, I don’t want to downplay the toll it can take on your mental health. We often joke about the “winter blues,” but seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a real medical condition that you should take seriously.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of SAD include:
- Feeling depressed
- Low energy
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Problems sleeping
- Weight gain
If you think you’re experiencing seasonal affective disorder, it’s important to speak with a medical professional. They can diagnose whether your feelings are coming from SAD or another mood disorder.
Schedule Activities Outside of Your House
In addition to decreasing your motivation to exercise, winter can also affect your social life. With cold temperatures and more difficult travel, meeting up with friends can be a challenge. To keep yourself from getting isolated, then, it’s important to schedule social activities that will get you out of your house.
Here are some winter-friendly social activities to try:
- Book clubs
- Indoor sports leagues
- Cooking classes (or any kind of indoor classes)
- Dinner parties
- Ice skating
Beyond specific activities, never forget that if you want to do things, you should take the initiative to organize them. This is especially critical in winter, when people may need that one friend giving them the extra push to leave the house.
Start a Project
Much as you should try to get out of the house when you can, there will be days when it really is too cold or snowy to go outside. Furthermore, everyone needs time to themselves (though the amount will vary based on your level of introversion).
For these moments, it’s helpful to have a project to occupy your hands and mind. Not only will this help you stave off stir craziness, but you’ll also have something to show for all that time spent inside.
Here are some great indoor projects to consider:
- Visual art – Whether it’s digital art or an analog medium such as oil paint, art is both relaxing and challenging.
- Cooking – Learn to cook a new dish that’s appropriate for the season. Not only is this fulfilling, but the heat from the stove will keep you toasty.
- Reading – Have a long book or series of books you’ve wanted to tackle? It doesn’t get much cozier than curling up in a chair with a hot drink and a novel.
- Home improvement – More time spent indoors will draw your attention to all those projects you’ve been neglecting around the house. So take an afternoon to fix that leaky faucet or organize your closet.
- Learning – This is more of a general tip, but winter is a great time to learn a new skill. Whether you want to learn something that will help you in your job or just something you’ve always found interesting, it’s a great way to spend all those hours indoors.
For more project ideas, check out this guide.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
When winter comes, it’s natural to crave “hearty” foods high in carbs. Not to mention, it’s easier to justify ordering takeout when the cold reduces your motivation to go grocery shopping. If you aren’t careful, these tendencies can take a toll on your health (and your wallet).
However, it is possible to eat well in winter if you’re mindful of it. To start, you can find healthy recipes that satisfy your desire for warm, filling food. Soups are a great avenue to explore here, as are roasted vegetable dishes. For more specific winter recipe ideas, check out this guide from the BBC.
If motivation to buy the items you need is the issue, consider making it easier. Order your groceries in advance and then pick them up at the store. Or go a step further and have your groceries delivered (if available in your area). Spending a bit extra for grocery delivery is still better for your physical and financial health than ordering takeout every night.
Winter is a challenging season for the health of your body, mind, and even social life. But I hope this article has given you some practical ideas for surviving (or even thriving) during winter. If all else fails, remember that with time, the cold temperatures and grey days will pass.
Image Credits: winter hiking