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For Your Health: Seven Hacks for an Active Winter


For Your Health Graphic 2020

Dr. Graham Colditz Headshot

Even with the excitement of kicking off a new year, winter can be tough for physical activity. The days are cold, the nights long. And that cozy spot on the couch seems to call your name.

COVID-19 hasn’t helped. On top of other demands on our energy and time, we’ve had to modify our exercise routines with safe, at-home workouts and physically distanced walks and runs. These were essential changes, of course, but after nearly a year they can start to feel a bit stale.

The physical and mental benefits of exercise remain really important, though. So, try to freshen up your routine and boost your motivation with these seven simple tips:

Make a small change. Sometimes just a minor change to your routine can renew your outlook. Try a new walking route, exercise at a different time or find a new online video instructor.

Chat with friends (virtually). Friends and family can keep us on track. While most in-person meet-ups are still unsafe because of the pandemic, a regular group chat via text, video or app can be nearly as good, allowing us to share goals, successes, frustrations and special tricks to stay motivated. You can even synchronize your digital chats and your solo walks, so you can virtually walk together but be safely apart. 

Give it five minutes. The hardest part of any activity can be getting started. When you just don’t feel like lacing up your workout shoes, commit to just five minutes. That’s all. After that, stop if you want. With the hardest part behind you, though, many times you’ll want to keep going.

Sign up for a virtual event. It’s been a rough year if you like in-person gym classes and 5K races. But one benefit of coronavirus restrictions has been an explosion in the number of virtual events. From virtual dance retreats to walking distance challenges, most any type of in-person event you’ve thought about is available virtually. Search online and see what sparks your interest.

Try mid-day. Working out when it’s dark is just part of winter, and it can be nice. But switching things up and fitting in a walk, run or even a yoga video when it’s still light outside can be a great change of pace.

Layer up. When it’s safe, exercising outside in winter can be a lot of fun, especially if you dress correctly for the conditions. Wearing layers allows you to take off or put on pieces of clothing as needed. For extra safety if you head outside when it’s dark, add reflective gear – for you and your pets.

Leave little reminders. Whether it’s a sticky note on the bathroom mirror or a stack of exercise clothes by the front door, leaving reminders for yourself about your exercise goal can be the nudge you need to make it happen.

With the distribution of highly effective and safe coronavirus vaccines, there’s hope that life will begin to feel more normal this spring or summer. As we gradually make progress against the pandemic, it’s still important that we keep up physical distancing and other safety measures. It’s also important that we continue to look after ourselves. And staying active is a big part of that. It may take more creativity than normal, but you can do it.

It’s your health – and your New Year. Take control.

Dr. Graham A. Colditz, associate director of prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is an internationally recognized leader in cancer prevention. As an epidemiologist and public health expert, he has a long-standing interest in the preventable causes of chronic disease. Colditz has a medical degree from The University of Queensland and a master’s and doctoral degrees in public health from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.