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Staying Active in the Winter Months

Contributed by Marianne Shaughnessy, PhD, CRNP

Older women jogging through the snowMost of us tend to "slow down" during the winter, with shorter days and longer nights. However, physical activity over the winter is just as important as during better weather months. Exercising regularly has proven benefits. These include lower blood pressure and blood glucose, improved sleep and mood, and less fatigue, joint pain and constipation. So keep moving during cooler weather and keep track of your exercise goals in My HealtheVet with these tips:

Get Started!

It does not matter what physical activity you select but start moving. Check with your health care provider before beginning any exercise program if you are:

  • Not a regular exerciser

  • Over the age of 50

  • Significantly overweight

  • Have a chronic health condition (such as asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, and so on)

Be safe

  • Dress appropriately for weather conditions

  • Cover your head, neck and face

  • Layer your clothing to protect against wind and cold

  • Use caution for outdoor activity

    • In slick conditions make sure shoes have rubber grips

    • Wear sun screen

  • If snow or ice makes it dangerous to exercise outside, make a plan to increase activity

    • In the home

    • Use a gym

    • Go to the mall

  • Warm up and cool down

    • If you are planning an exercise session, remember to warm up prior to beginning

    • Cool down and stretch following your session

    • This will lower your risk for injury and keep you motivated to continue

Drink water

  • Make sure to drink plenty of water for hydration before, during and after exercise

Set your exercise goal

Man and women walking through the snowYou can set and track your exercise goals in My HealtheVet's Track Health with your Activity Journal.

  • Exercise at least 3-5 days a week, and more often if you can

  • Aim for a total of 2½ hours each week of moderate to vigorous activity for cardiovascular fitness and resistance (strengthening) exercise

  • Make increasing physical activity part of your daily routine

    • Little changes add up

    • Park farther away from the entrance to a store, or church and walk the extra distance

    • Climb the stairs to maintain leg strength

  • Walk

    • Lowest dropout rate of any physical activity

    • Simplest positive change you can make to improve your heart health

    • Walk for 30 minutes total if possible, either outside or at a gym or mall

    • Get a buddy and go walking together

    • You are more likely to start and continue any program you begin with a partner

  • Swim

    • Go to an indoor pool at a local community center or fitness complex

    • Swimming strengthens muscles and gets your heart pumping

    • Swimming leaves you feeling energized and fit

  • Dance

    • Dancing can be high or low impact exercise

    • Ballroom dancing can improve your balance and flexibility

    • Square dancing and aerobic dance will improve your cardiovascular fitness

    • Look for dance classes at a local community center, senior center, or community college

  • Exercise at home

    • Use an inexpensive set of dumbbells or resistance bands for resistance training

    • Do jumping jacks, push-ups, and sit-ups for aerobic exercise

    • Check the TV listings for an exercise program

    • Follow a DVD or video on a complete workout at home

Those who live in warm weather climates have plenty of opportunities to stay active year round. However, for many of us, it requires some advance planning. The benefits of staying active are well worth the effort and the healthy exercise habits you start this winter will keep you moving well through 2017!

Read More

Physical Activity Center (My HealtheVet)

Exercise for Older Adults (NIH Senior Health)

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Be Active Your Way (Department of Health and Human Services)

Your Orthopaedic Connection: Warm Up, Cool Down and Be Flexible (American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons)


Updated/Reviewed: November 21, 2016