Stay Active This Winter

As the days get chillier, outdoor exercise options become more limited. But snow on the ground doesn’t have to mean extra inches on the waist. If you’re willing to brave the elements and be creative, there are many ways you can stay in shape this winter that don’t require fancy equipment or a gym membership.

It’s important to get over the notion that inclement weather is a hindrance to training, says Charla McMillian, an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and creator of FitBoot-Basic Training for Professionals. She says winter weather can actually be used as an exercise advantage. For example, shoveling the driveway (as long as you are healthy enough to do so) and simply walking on snow can be effective workouts.

“You don’t need to go miles and miles because of the added resistance of the snow,” she says. “You get the fresh air going to the lungs, and it improves your mood and requires no extra equipment.”

Getting Outside

Winter is a perfect time to incorporate family activities into your exercise routine, as well. The Midwest has many great downhill skiing destinations and parks with trails for hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, such as Sundown Mountain Resort in Dubuque, IA, Chestnut Mountain Resort in Galena, IL and Lemon Lake County Park in Crown Point, IN. The National Park Service Web site ( lists all state and national parks by location so you can see what activities are offered at each park as well as their hours of operation. In addition, you can find many trails not associated with the National Park System by doing a simple search online.

For activities that are closer to home, McMillian suggests playing ultimate Frisbee, football or tag with the family out in the yard or at a park where the snow provides resistance and soft cushioning. Sledding is also a fun family activity that provides a great workout and can be done at a neighborhood hill.

Neighborhood playgrounds also serve as makeshift gyms, says Suzanne Gray, Owner of Willowbrook, IL-based Right Fit Sport Fitness. “Each piece of that equipment on the playground can be used as an exercise tool,” she says. “It’s there, it’s free, and we can make a fun exercise and call it anything we want. Everybody in the group takes turns to make up an exercise on a piece of equipment.” Workouts can be as simple as doing a pull-up on the monkey bars.

Keeping Warm and Fit Inside

For those blustery winter days, there are many worthwhile exercises you can do in the comfort of your home. “You don’t need fancy equipment,” says Jennifer Tuma-Young, a Licensed Wellness Coach and Founder of Inspirista, a company geared toward helping people exercise in simple and fun ways. “You can do a ‘wall sit’ combined with a ‘dragon curl’ and get a very effective totalbody strengthening workout in just a few minutes a day. All you need is a wall and two cans of soup or veggies."

To do this exercise, pretend as if you are sitting in a chair with your back flat against the wall. Hold soup cans with your arms fully extended and bring them up with a bicep curl. Try to stay in the sitting position for a whole minute. Tuma-Young also says doing lunges up the stairs and squats in the shower are effective, time-efficient exercises you can incorporate into a busy daily routine.

Gray also works with clients to improve posture by having them blow into straws and balloons and hold their breath. “What’s happening is we’re finally getting the lungs to expand and open up the rib cage,” she says. “That’s why you see people with really bad posture who are also top breathers. So these exercises with balloons and straws are forcing people to exercise their internal organs.”

There are also easy and fun exercises for all fitness levels that can be done to prevent common problems as you age. Gray says grip, posture and shoulder issues are the most common problems people have when entering the 40-65 age range. One exercise he recommends involves holding a bath towel the long way in front of you with arms extended and then alternately squeezing each end.

The most difficult part of exercising in the winter is often finding the time and motivation. McMillian advises finding a workout partner so you won’t skip exercising. She also recommends planning your workout into your daily routine. “Make an appointment with yourself,” she says. “Don’t miss that appointment just like you wouldn’t miss any other appointment. You are just as important as your boss’s meeting or that conference you have to go to, so treat yourself that way.”

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