It can be all too easy to let the chilly winter months deter you from being active. After all, who wants to go for a run when it’s cold enough to see your breath, or drive to yoga or CrossFit when it’s snowing? Staying cozy on the couch is often a more appealing option.
But according to John Hardy, MD, a cardiologist at UVA Cardiology, a department of Novant Health UVA Health System Culpeper Medical Center, keeping up activity levels in the winter is vital for both your physical and mental health.
“I encourage patients to stay active to maintain their cardiovascular health, avoid weight gain and help cope with seasonal affective disorder (SAD),” said Dr. Hardy. “There are innumerable benefits to staying active year-round, and cold temperatures aren’t an excuse to cease activity for three months. There are plenty of ways to get your heart rate up indoors or make going out in the cold more fun.”
Exercising for Health
It’s no secret that regular exercise has major health benefits. Walking 30 minutes each day, as recommended by the Mayo Clinic, has been proven to improve cardiovascular health, reduce body fat and lower the risk of some diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis. Moving your legs can be so beneficial that many professionals and organizations, including the American Heart Association, recommend walking 10,000 steps (or roughly five miles) per day.
What you can do: Join a gym. We never said you had to take those steps outdoors! Using a treadmill or indoor track is a great way to work out while staying warm. There are several gyms in the Culpeper area, including Culpeper Sport & Fitness, Powell Wellness Center, Gold’s Gym, Anytime Fitness and more. Most offer different levels of membership. Find one that works for your unique fitness goals and get signed up!
Keeping the Winter Weight Off
Activity also helps combat the dreaded winter weight gain. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, the average American gains 1-2 pounds over the holidays.
“Those 1-2 pounds are moderate when you look at them by themselves, but studies show that many people don’t lose them when winter is over,” said Dr. Hardy. “Over the years, they add up.”
What you can do: Commit to taking a brisk 10-minute walk after each meal and invite family, friends or coworkers to join. Walking at a faster clip works your heart harder, which helps keep you warm, and having a conversation during your walk helps pass the time.
SAD is a type of depression related to changes in season and affects about five percent of Americans, according to the American Psychiatric Association. It has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain caused by shorter daylight hours and manifests in symptoms such as sadness, fatigue and a lack of enthusiasm.
“Exercising releases endorphins, hormones that reduce pain and increase feelings of happiness,” said Dr. Hardy. “Even light physical activity, such as yoga, can help patients who are experiencing seasonal depression.”
What you can do: Exercise at home. Invest in a yoga mat and some weights for your comfort level and try to set up shop in a light-filled room to increase sunlight exposure. Incorporating light stretches, moderate strength training and body-weight exercises into your daily routine is a great way to boost your endorphins without having to leave the house.
For more information about the services offered at Culpeper Medical Center, a Novant Health UVA Health System facility, please visit novanthealthuva.org/locations/medical-centers--emergency-rooms/Culpeper-medical-center.