It’s -10°C and it’s dark outside. You told yourself you were going for a run after work. You said that this time, for sure, you’re doing it. But then you didn’t expect that it would be such a long day at work, and you didn’t expect it to get that cold. You tell yourself, what’s one more day?
For some Canadians, winter can certainly be a more challenging time to be active outdoors. The cold weather becomes an easy excuse not to go outside. The thought of layering up to face the outside chill over curling up on the couch with a warm drink seems absurd. Yet this idea that fitness in the wintertime is a hassle is simply a mindset — and with any mindset, it can be changed. Practicing a healthy active lifestyle takes time to develop into a long-term habit. The key is to start.
“It’s hardest to get motivated and stay motivated,” said Dr. Leigh Vanderloo, exercise scientist at ParticipACTION. She said that recognizing what it is you want to change — and that you’re realistic in your short-term health and fitness goals — can help you stay motivated and avoid making excuses. “Sometimes it’s hard if you’re just saying, ‘I just want to be more active’ — what does that mean?” She said that if going to the gym four times a week is the goal, but you’re starting from a mostly sedentary lifestyle, it may be more difficult to transition into a long-term habit. Committing to walking 10 minutes more a day, however, may be more achievable. Even with realistic goals in place, you may still struggle and have dips from time to time, said Dr. Vanderloo. Here are a few common excuses people make and her tips on how to beat them.
Excuse #1: I don’t have time to exercise
“The first thing you need to do is start prioritizing being active,” said Dr. Vanderloo.
While it may be difficult to manage family, work, school and other commitments, regular physical activity should be just as important. She suggested scheduling time in a planner to make it a priority, just as one would block off time for a doctor’s appointment and commit to it. “It should be non-negotiable.”
Excuse #2: I don’t like to exercise
“That’s a common one — we don’t always like to push ourselves,” said Dr. Vanderloo.
The momentary sweating, huffing and puffing, and slight muscle aches might feel uncomfortable at first, but she said it needs to be embraced; not only does exercise benefit the body, but it also benefits the mind. She encourages people to start slow: “Try walking three times a week for 15 minutes. Week two, try to ‘up’ it a bit — instead of doing 15 minutes, try to do 20 or try to cover the same distance but in less time, and slowly build yourself up.” Eventually it will start to feel better and become something to be enjoyed.
The types of activities also make a difference in developing physical fitness for the long term. The more you enjoy the activity, the more likely you’ll be motivated to do it and maintain it. ParticipACTION lists over 15 winter activities on their 150 Play List to get Canadians moving outside. From family-friendly games, such as snow snaking and broomball, to adult-centred sports such as snowmobiling and cross-country skiing, the Play List is a great starting point to discover new fun activities.
Excuse #3: It’s too cold
“If you’re dressed appropriately, it’s not going to feel as cold,” said Dr. Vanderloo.
“Make sure you have proper footwear on, you have mitts, your ears, face are covered. Layers are always a good choice.” She recommends dressing as if it’s 10 degrees warmer for more vigorous activities like running, so that you’re more comfortable as your body starts to heat up. The body will warm up as you start to become more active, she said. There can also be a lot of sun in the winter months that can make days feel warmer.
She said that putting a reward-based plan in place could be good motivator. “Go for a 20-minute walk as a family. Everyone can bundle up and look forward to having some tea or hot chocolate when you come in. Make it a habit that everyone will look forward to.”
Even after you’re able to overcome the excuses, procrastination can also be an obstacle. Dr. Vanderloo said the important thing to remember that some movement is better than no movement. “Sometimes I think we get caught up in thinking that in order for it to count as physical activity, it needs to be ‘I went for an hour run’. It’s really about making sure to get started,” she said.
More mind over matter
There’s a town in northern Norway where the sun rarely rises from November to January, a period known as the Polar Night. It’s cold and dark, yet interestingly, residents view winter as a time to be enjoyed and look forward to the snow-filled season. Rather than grumbling about the cold, Tromsø residents looked forward to spending time outdoors. According to researchers, as reported in The Atlantic, wintertime mindset plays a role in mental health and well-being. They found that Norwegian residents that had positive wintertime mindset tended to be the same people who were highly satisfied with their lives and who pursued personal growth.
This winter try to exercise a positive wintertime mindset, as well, and make being active outdoors a routine. Not only will it benefit you physically but will also help improve well-being, and there’s really no excuse not to.