Discover valuable tips on coping with pre-Christmas stress and creating moments of staying active in the winter months in our guest blog post written by one of our This Girl Can Classes Instructors, Lucy Shonfeld.
Picture the scene – it’s cold and dark outside. From neighbours’ windows, lights are twinkling. In the distance, you can hear a band playing some jaunty tunes, and there is the faint smell of pine and cinnamon in the background. How does this make you feel?
For a lot of people, this makes them feel happy -the winter months are a magical time of the year, but for others a time of stress and worry. Not everyone is full of the Christmas spirit, and I hate to admit that this includes me.
I am a summer person. Take me back a few years, winter was a time to sit on the sofa and not go anywhere. Exercise was the last thing on my mind, but over the past few years, it has become increasingly important to me. I know from experience as a busy Mum working in healthcare as well as now running my fitness business, that prioritising myself over the festive period can be hard. Overall, only 61% of women in the UK are classed as active 1. The levels of activity can reduce in winter as women may struggle to take part in outdoor activities, as the weather changes and the days become shorter, women may feel less safe exercising outdoors.
Here are a few things I’ve learnt over the years on how to stay active and healthy in winter. Hopefully, some of them may help you too.
Be accountable to yourself
In the winter months, it does seem much easier to snuggle up in a blanket rather than go and exercise. Try and make firm plans. This may be booking and paying for a class, or adding plans to a diary. Movement doesn’t have to be anything big or fancy. Going for a walk, a short home workout or having a dance around with children all count. You could make a plan with a friend and agree to exercise together. This can help with accountability, but also a good chat and companionship can work wonders for our wellbeing. One of the great things I find about running community fitness classes is the friendships it creates.
Protect your mental health by prioritising exercise
It’s important to protect your mental health in winter. Lots of people describe feeling lower in mood in the winter months.
There is a clear link between exercise and better mental health. The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for treatment of depression include group exercise, mindfulness and meditation 2. It is therefore important to move for your body and your mind, and particularly important in winter.
Make sure you take a break from the craziness of the season
Our poor bodies take a beating in the festive season. Wrapping presents, carrying shopping, cooking/preparing food etc can lead to sore muscles, and a stiff neck and shoulders. Exercise may be the last thing that you want to do, but stopping for some gentle movement like stretches or Pilates can help with this.
If it’s not working switch it up!
There is no point in trying to keep going back to something you’re not enjoying. I am guilty of having had a gym membership for many years, but not really enjoying it and promising myself I’d start again tomorrow or next week. If it’s not working, mix it up and try different things. Our This Girl Can Classes are a perfect example of this, as they are designed for you to try something new in a low-pressure environment, to discover what kind of group exercise you enjoy.
In cold weather drinking water may be the last thing that you want to do; however, dehydration can occur in winter, especially in warm centrally heated buildings. Dehydration can lead to symptoms such as lethargy and headaches. Grab that water bottle and sip regularly.
Don’t worry if you miss a day
You may start the day with the best of intentions, but life happens. Don’t beat yourself up. Tomorrow is a new day.
Exercise doesn’t have to be expensive
Money can be particularly tight in the winter months and people have to choose what to prioritise. Exercise is a natural one to remove from the budget. However, it is so important to continue to exercise. It’s about being inventive; many clubs or community fitness classes offer pay-as-you-go rates or reduced-price multi-session passes. Some outdoor activities are free – walking, running, football or tennis in the park for example. You could even use what you have at home for a free home workout (e.g. using tins rather than hand weights if needs be).
Don’t wait until January
New Year’s resolutions are great, but you don’t need to wait until January to make a change to become more active. For all the reasons above now is the perfect time to get into a new routine or build a new exercise habit. You’ll be ahead of the crowd come January.
Above all be kind to yourself this winter season!
Hi, I’m Lucy Shonfeld, I’m a group fitness instructor from Nottingham. I am level 2 qualified and have a level 3 qualification in adapting exercise for active older adults. I work full-time for the NHS as well as running my fitness business LuceFit. My passion is teaching fitness to people who may have barriers to accessing fitness classes, especially women brand new to exercise and fellow shift workers. I trained to teach This Girl Can Classes in August 2022 and have really enjoyed introducing women in Nottingham to group exercise for the first time.