Seven ways to keep exercising in the cold, dark winter months

Sign up to a challenge

Whether it is undertaking the NHS Couch to 5K plan or signing up to a marathon, having a goal can give shape and structure to an exercise routine. Whatever your motivation and fitness level, there are numerous events (many of them free) that you can enter.

Make it social

Some people love exercising on their own, but for others, it is helpful to have company. Buddy up with a friend or get involved with a local group or class. Parkrun, which organises free 5km timed runs in more than 500 locations across the world, is a great way to meet people in your local area and is easy to join. There is another incentive to working out with pals, too, according to Dr Joe Costello, senior lecturer in exercise physiology at the University of Portsmouth. “Research suggests that if people are meeting up with friends to exercise they are less likely to pull out.”

Keep warm in your kit

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing,” said the late British fellwalker, illustrator and guidebook author, Alfred Wainwright. Base layers, gloves, headbands and hats are all useful for extra warmth. If you are going to and from a place for exercise, wrap up in a coat or jacket so as not to get chilly while travelling. Visibility is also something worth paying attention to if you are exercising outside in the dark.

Mix it up

“Variety is the key to enjoying exercise,” explains personal trainer Geoff Walcott. “Doing the same type of training can be demotivating.” A small study of 114 men and women by the University of Florida found that participants who repeated the same exercises in a workout (three times a week) were more likely to quit than those who varied the type of exercise between sessions. Those with the more varied routine were also found to enjoy their workouts 20% more.

Train at home

If the thought of working out at home brings to mind grainy images of lycra clad aerobics instructors, it is time to rethink your strategy. From free online tutorials, videos and podcasts to subscription-based services such as Zwift (used by some professional cyclists as part of their training programmes) the options are plentiful. Walcott recommends using indoor training to complement outdoor training. “If you’re training for an outdoor race, for example a 5k or 10k, then you should be doing strength training as well.” The NHS’ Strength and Flex plan is designed to be equipment-free and easy to follow.

Keep track of your training

There are numerous apps and gadgets that can help keep track of your activities. And it doesn’t need to be tech heavy. Making a note or placing a dot on a calendar or chart can help you visualise how much you have already done. If counting steps is your thing, be aware that just racking up the numbers is not enough. Earlier this year, health experts encouraged people to increase the intensity of their walking, rather than just focusing on distance. Public Health England’s Active 10 app combines walking intensity and time. Not having enough time was cited as the main reason why people struggled to fit in exercise, according to a recent survey by PHE, so a 10 minute brisk walk each day is among its recommendations.

Give yourself a rest

Rest and recovery are important, especially if you are undertaking intense exercise or building up your fitness. According to Michigan State University,athletes who are sleep deprived may experience subtle changes in hormone levels, leading to higher levels of cortisol and a decrease in human growth hormone, which is active during tissue repair. Be it a hot drink or a warm bath to soothe your cold bones, having a reward to look forward to can be key on cold, miserable days.