Over the River and Through the Woods = A Good Winter Workout

It’s the time of year when schedules are full of holiday parties and meals, and opportunities for food-and-alcohol-centered merriment abound. It’s also the time when the average adult packs on a sneaky, often unnoticed, pound or two that has a high chance of lingering on your waistline long after the calendar changes over. This is one of the many reasons why it’s so important to make time for fitness.

You may already know the benefits of regular physical activity such as a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It can also improve your ability to perform daily tasks, keep you mentally sharp, and help you avoid injuries. Winter fitness is especially beneficial because it helps with health concerns specific to cold weather:

It boosts immunity. During cold and flu season, exercise can help you dodge the seasonal sniffles. Regular activity appears to boost the immune system, making it easier for your body to handle wintertime germs. Flu vaccination and frequent hand-washing also help keep you healthy.

It staves off holiday spread. Weight gain during the holidays can contribute to the 20–30 pounds that most Americans gain during adulthood. Exercise can help you balance the number of calories that you eat with the number of calories you burn, so you can enjoy some treats without the negative consequences.

It improves your mood. The shorter days of fall and winter cause some women to experience seasonal affective disorder, a condition marked by symptoms such as tiredness, irritability, cravings for complex carbohydrates (such as bread and pasta), and depression. For others, a hard day at work or holiday visits with family and friends can be very stressful. Exercise is one of the best natural antidepressants around and can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve your mood, lower levels of stress hormones, and boost levels of feel-good hormones.

ACOG recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (eg, brisk walking or bicycling) on most days of the week to lower your risk of chronic disease, 60 minutes on most days of the week to maintain weight, and at least 60 to 90 minutes a day to lose weight. If you can’t get a full workout in every day, try going for a walk after meals, raking leaves, vacuuming, or taking the stairs. Or winterize your workout with cold weather activities such as ice skating, snow shoveling, or skiing. Any physical activity helps, so fight your inner couch potato this winter and get moving.

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