It can be difficult to find time to exercise even when you have an extra 3 to 4 hours of daylight on a warm, sunny summer afternoon.
But when it’s dark at 5 a.m. and dark at 5 p.m. and freezing cold outside, finding time to exercise – let alone the desire to actually do it — can seem nearly impossible.
If this sounds like you, it’s important to know two things: You are not alone and your feelings have some scientific backing. It’s no myth that the lack of daylight hours during the wintertime robs us of energy, which is a key ingredient in fueling an exercise regimen.
Abigail Anglum, a certified family nurse practitioner with Williamson Medical Group in Franklin, explains that lack of daylight increases the levels of melatonin in your system, which makes you more tired at night.
“Melatonin helps coordinate your natural circadian rhythms by peaking at night while you are asleep and it drops in the morning,” Anglum said. “Darkness affects those normal rhythms and causes your body to produce melatonin earlier. Your body does adjust to it somewhat, but it can certainly contribute to a lack of energy to work out especially at the very beginning of a time change.”
This is why in the wintertime after that last work meeting and it’s been dark for two hours, the only thing you want to lift is a blanket, a remote control and a bucket of KFC.
But it’s physiologically important to not totally give in to that inherent wintertime laziness. Getting back on track come spring is going to be a lot harder if you didn’t do any type of physical exercise all winter.
So the key is to remember that exercise doesn’t have to be all or nothing. All it takes is a little focus and a shift in how your summertime exercise routine looks. If you like to ride your bike in the summer, find a cycling studio where you can ride indoors and not be reliant upon daylight or weather.
“People tend to feel like if they can’t get out and do a solid 45-minute run, they just won’t do anything,”Anglum said. “But have a goal to accumulate minutes. Break it up into a few shorter walks during the day. If you can do it outside, all the better because a little sun exposure is good for you.”
Art Williams, D.O., with Williamson Medical Group seconds the importance of trying to get outside even if it’s cold.
“I tell my patients who are struggling with a lack of energy in the wintertime to get outside,” he said. “Take a 30-minute walk at lunch. Not only are you moving, but you are getting light and light is so important. When you are locked up in an office all day and it’s dark when you leave and dark when you get home, you aren’t getting any light on your retinas, which can help correct those natural rhythms in your body.”
Anglum recommends if you can’t get outside to walk, find someplace indoors to walk. Use this time of year to mix up your exercise routine a bit. Try something new.
“If you aren’t exercising at all, that will contribute to poor sleep,” Anglum said. “It’s a vicious cycle.”
“I still cycle in the winter,” he said. “I try to pack a lot into a Saturday or Sunday when I have more free time and more daylight hours I can use. Clean out the closet on a Wednesday night so you have Saturday to get outside and do something. Even if you can’t get outside, you can still find new activities. Try arena football. Hockey. There’s a lot you can do in the winter that doesn’t require braving the dark and cold.”
Both Anglum and Williams advise making the effort to keep exercise in your day – even if it seems shorter in the winter. Here are a few tips from the pros:
- Find something you enjoy. Research shows if you start an exercise program you don’t enjoy, you won’t stick with it. This is the key to long-term success.
- Look outside the box. Ask yourself how you work out best. Do you need an accountability partner? Do you prefer to be alone? Hone in on that first and then find something to do that fits those parameters.
- Get outside no matter what. So maybe you can’t do a 30-mile bike ride after work in December, but you can squeeze 15 minutes out of your lunch break to walk around the parking lot at your office. Get that sunlight you need to help stave off the fatigue.
- Have a long-term plan. Make a commitment to keep moving this winter. Plan it out. Try a ballet barre class this week and a boxing class the next. Find an online exercise video or Google how to use soup cans as hand weights. (http://www.livestrong.com/article/327806-soup-can-exercises/)
Your overall mood will thank you. By keeping the body moving and getting a little sunlight on your face as much as possible throughout the winter, you will sleep better, have more energy and come spring, you won’t have to face dealing with the extra 10 pounds you packed on over the winter.Share this Article