When the seasons change and it becomes too cold to spend time outdoors for more than a few minutes, many people reduce their activity levels and hibernate for the winter. How many of us have woken up on a cold winter morning and decided we’d rather spend an extra hour in bed than getting up to exercise? Inactivity in the colder months can lead to a higher risk of complete aerobic inactivity.

Aerobic exercise significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, bone diseases, cognitive decline, and cancer. Numerous studies have demonstrated the positive benefits of increased fitness levels achieved through regular physical activity and exercise. Not only does an active lifestyle maintain or enhance fitness levels for general health, it also reduces the risk of depression, anxiety, and stress from our daily lives.

Cardiovascular conditioning—where you heart rate and breathing increase due to the use of your larger muscle groups—should be performed regularly and for a certain duration of time. Aerobic activities can be either high- or low-impact, depending on your current activity level and injury status. Some examples of cold weather, low-impact activities include walking on an indoor track, “window-shopping” with a friend, indoor biking, swimming, and taking group fitness classes. The US Surgeon General recommends that adults accumulate at least 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days per week.

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What constitutes intensity levels for exercise? How should we choose what is best for our bodies? Moderate exercise should feel somewhat hard, where breathing increases, but you are not out of breath. You should start to break a light sweat at around ten minutes of the activity. Another way to think about it is that you should be able to carry out a conversation with a friend, but not be able to sing a song. Vigorous exercise should feel challenging. Breathing should become deep and rapid, and sweat will develop after a few minutes. Speaking should be difficult without pausing for breath.

Both the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association provide consistent guidelines for exercise. It’s recommended that adults and seniors perform moderate-intensity cardio for 30 minutes, 5x/week; vigorous-intensity cardio for 20 minutes, 3x/week; or a mixture of moderate-vigorous cardio, 3-5x/week. Choose an exercise that fits your needs, is enjoyable and, most importantly, fun! Following through with your exercise program over the long term is so important, so choose something you actually look forward to doing, invite some friends to join in, and rely on that mutual support and encouragement to help you get those workouts in. 

As you embark on a new exercise program, here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Proper attire – warm clothing, properly fitted shoes and sneakers
  • Eat a small snack before and after exercise to avoid hypoglycemia
  • Gradually increase duration and frequency of exercise every 2-3 weeks
  • Medications
  • Hydration, hydration, hydration

Always consider your past medical history, including any surgeries, orthopedic issues, and cardiovascular disorders, prior to beginning a new workout program or activity. Consult with your Primary Care Physician prior to starting any unsupervised exercise program. If you encounter any pain during, or as a result of, exercise, consult with musculoskeletal expert such as a physical therapist.