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How to get out in the dark winter….

Late last year the results of a study around the activity of children worldwide (or more fundamentally their inactivity) was released. As I look out of the window the sky is a steely grey, the rain is sheeting down periodically, and the weather forecast for the week ahead is less than attractive. Never mind the children, I’ve thought to myself, how do any of us get motivated to get outside and active during the winter months. 

We’ve now passed January 12th – the officially recognised date that many will have abandoned their New Year’s resolutions by. I’ve already made a mental note that we still have ten weeks to go until we hit the first day of spring (20 March), and until then we’ll be faced with quite a bit of mud, puddles, dark mornings and chilly evenings. It’s hard to stay motivated, but exercise and sunlight (albeit weak winter sun) are key to our wellbeing.

There is so much evidence of the value of sunlight, fresh air and exercise when it comes to the management of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and one’s mental health in general

According to scientists at St Mary’s University in London, winter is actually the best time of the year to head outside for a jog, a new study commissioned by the London Winter Run found. The cold conditions by bringing the heart rate down, makes it easier for the body.  A runner’s heart rate can be reduced by as much as six per cent with less blood being pumped out to the skin to dissipate the heat.

So, it got me thinking – how do those of us who are active, but not dedicated athletes, and may be parents of young people (big and little) get ourselves motivated to move and not hibernate for the next three months… A quick online search came up with lots of options. The NHS has a great website with ideas and links for those of us who want to take up, or continue to run in winter, including a link to find your local running group including runtogether.  If you’re really stuck for ideas of what to do to get exercising (for the ladies) then go to the This Girl Can website – inspiring stories and a plethora of sporting activities I hadn’t even thought about.  

If it’s really too awful to face the outdoors go and grab a couple of wine bottles and log on to Australian mum Lizzie Williamson’s two minute moves website. Seriously, you’ll be buffing up your biceps with wine bottles, squats at the kitchen sink and strengthening your core while brushing your teeth by the end of the day. Alternatively, any search online will find you a mass of workouts to suit any body with music to suit your mood, your workout and your age group!

But if you’re hardcore and, despite the challenge of heading out into the drizzle and chilly wind, you’re determined to get out there and enjoy whatever weather the UK winter throws at you (and good on you) try these strategies:

1. Train with a workout buddy – I don’t believe anyone likes to let anyone down, and accountability is such a good motivator. So, find a training friend or group and agree a schedule. Make a date, meet up and keep to it – regularly. The feeling of self-righteousness when you’ve run or cycled through the rain/snow/wind/mud is not to be underestimated.

2. Find the time of day that works best for you – I’m lucky, I work from home and can fit my workout around my work and family commitments, but it can also mean I have the flexibility in my day to keep putting off the run or cycle.  Work out when’s your preferred time to exercise and schedule around it.

3. Get organised – Put your exercise gear out the night before if you exercise first thing in the morning or pack it ready to take with you to work. Either way make it as difficult as possible to duck out of your planned exercise.

4. Set a date – sign up for a competition – Register and sign up for a race or an event to keep you focussed and your ‘eye on the prize’. The threat that by not exercising today will only make it harder later in the week is a great incentive to maintain an exercise schedule during the winter months.

5. Try Something new – Use the winter months as a chance to try something new. The new year always brings out new deals and taster sessions to support those who want a new activity as part of their new year resolution. Check them out and take advantage.

6. Sign up for classes – Make the financial commitment to attend a regular class and that’s half the battle won I reckon.

So, don’t wait for spring to get out there, or think you’ve missed the boat for New Year’s Resolutions – go for a mid-January start instead. Embrace the winter days, the fallen leaves and even the mud. The ‘feel good factor’ of winter exercise is cheering in itself.  In winter the light is different, the smells are different, the sense of achievement is different – so embrace it. 

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