The Winter Workout

by Derrien Williams, Resilient Youth and Families Extension Agent,

We all know the benefits of physical activity, right? People who are physically active tend to live longer and have lower risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, physical activity can also help with weight control and improve academic achievement in students. We hear statistics such as these all the time. So why do less than half of all adults meet the CDC’s 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines and less than three in 10 high school students get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day?

According to Forbes magazine, the most common excuse for people not engaging in physical activity is lack of time. Membership fees to gyms, whether you have children or not, and neighborhood safety can also play a role in people not exercising. Throw in the fact that the weather is changing from warm, sunny days to cooler, gloomy days, and the shortened amount of daylight, and the motivation for people to exercise understandably lowers. In fact, a recent Gallup poll stated that Americans do typically exercise more in the spring and summer and less in the fall and winter. But, don’t let these factors deter you. The good news is that you can get a full-body workout right at home without equipment. Stairs, chairs, step stools and objects around the home can be used to work all the major muscle groups.

Besides the aforementioned benefits of physical activity, working out at home can involve your family and is free of charge. The CDC recommends aerobic exercise at a moderate pace for at least 150 minutes a week and strength training on at least two days of the week. Kimberly Caines at Livestrong suggests using water bottles or just body weight for resistance. She adds, “Try targeting your major muscle groups to stimulate muscle all throughout your body.”

As part of family time, you can include your children (if they are able to perform) and husband/wife in these exercises. You can also make it interesting by including obstacle courses. Livestrong’s Andrea Cespedes suggests to “set up an indoor or outdoor obstacle course. Indoors, line up a jump rope, a hula-hoop, a pillow, a ball and several cans or bottles. Have your child jump rope for 10 counts, swing the hoop for 30 seconds, jump over the pillow 10 times, dribble the ball for 30 seconds and weave through the cans. Ask them to repeat it five to 10 times, then invite them to create their own course.”

If you prefer an outdoor environment for exercising, cold weather causes muscles to lose more heat and contract, resulting in tightness around the body. Therefore, joints get tighter, muscles lose their range of motion, and nerves can more easily be pinched. Make sure that you warm up a little longer to prevent damage. According to CNN, a basic rule of thumb is to warm up for 10 minutes when the temperature is between 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. For each 10-degree temperature drop below 35, extend your warm-up by five minutes. Some bodyweight exercises — like push-ups, dips, squats, lunges and bicycle crunches — are ideal for getting your blood flowing.

Don’t let the fall and winter blues reduce your desire to be physically active this season, especially if you’re prone to indulge in high-calorie holiday treats. These simple and fun indoor and around-the-house exercises well keep you fit during the cold months while you’re waiting patiently for the spring thaw.

To read the full article, check out the Fall/Winter issue of Extension Matters.

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