When the winter weather hits and the daylight hours are shorter, the couch may beckon. The pleasant temperatures aren't calling us outside to exercise -- plus winter garb covers a host of defects, so we may lose our incentive to stay toned.
But no matter what the season, we all need at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week to protect our health and maintain our weight, according to the American Heart Association. Also, it points out, working out lifts your mood to fight the winter blues, and it boosts your immune system during the cold and flu season.
"If you shy away from your regular exercise routine due to the cold or shorter days, you de-condition yourself and it will become harder to get back into your normal routine once the weather is nicer and the days longer," said Tracy Gasperik, an instructor at Stanford Health Care-ValleyCare's wellness center, LifeStyleRx.
"Try to stick to your regular routine as much as you can," she advised. "Try to think about how much harder it would be to start over after winter if you stop working out during this time of year."
She said there is no reason for people to alter their normal workout routines during the winter.
"Now if you are a runner, then you will need to wear more layers and possibly rain gear during the winter months to stay warm and dry, or take it inside," Gasperik said. "But you can continue your normal routine during the winter the same as you would during any other time of the year."
Although she recommends a minimum of two hours of cardiovascular exercise a week and two to three days of strength training year-round, she said at LifeStyleRx they definitely see a decrease in participation at the gym when the colder weather arrives.
"We understand that it sounds way more appealing to stay inside on your comfy couch with a fuzzy blanket than to tie up your sneakers and go outside, but do you want to keep up your progress you made during the rest of the year? Then you should continue your routine now as well," she said. "Exercise helps so much with keeping the stress down, helps you sleep better, keep the holiday pounds down a little and is a great overall stress relief."
If a person is sick or is recovering from a cold or coughing, Gasperik noted, it is better to rest.
"You can go on an easy walk or get on the stationary bike inside," she said. "But if you do go outside, make sure you are bundled up and keep it as easy as possible. Your body needs its strength to get better, and if you work out, you are not giving your body the energy it needs to fight whatever is going on."
When it's cold outside and the days are shorter, people tend to work out in the gym rather than outside, Gasperik observed.
"We also see a shift in when people start their workouts based on what time the sun sets or rises," she said.
If you don't want to go outside, you can get exercise by working out or dancing to a video or TV show at home.
"Anything that gets your heart rate up -- and if you are more likely to do that than anything else, go for it," Gasperik said. "Something is better than nothing. As long as you move for at least 30 minutes a day, it's better than not doing anything at all."
Tips for winter workouts
* Get motivated.
Low energy and gloomy weather can make it tougher than usual to get going. So if you're feeling lazy, remind yourself that working out will likely give you more energy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Get others involved. You're less likely to skip out on your sweat session if you know a workout buddy is counting on you.
* Protect yourself from the elements.
Chilly temperatures can sap body heat fast, so wear layers to stay cozy and dry starting with a moisture-wicking base layer to soak up sweat. Add a layer of fleece to lock in warmth and top with a waterproof layer to block out the elements. Finish with warm gloves, good socks and a hat.
Even in the winter, the sun is often shining so remember to wear sunscreen. If you go to the snow on a sunny day, sunscreen is especially important.
* Take advantage of the season.
Snowy winter walks or jogs can be pretty and peaceful if you can visit the mountains. Many communities set up ice skating rinks.
* Move your workout indoors.
If you're not a fan of the cold, find reliable ways to stay active regardless of the weather. Indoor swimming or cycling, aerobics classes and even walking in the mall are all great ways to get your heart pumping.
-- Stanford Health Care-ValleyCare website