Winter can derail all of the progress made during the warmer months, when getting exercise was as easy as a brisk walk on a beautiful summer day. It's hard to stick with an exercise routine when the days are shorter and darker, and when bad weather makes us want to just stay home. But none of this means you have to stop exercising.
The bottom line — stay mindful of all of the opportunities at home to keep moving. If you haven't exercised in a while, set easy goals for yourself. Some people prefer a varied routine, while others like to do the same thing every day. Whatever your preference, select movement that you enjoy so that you are more likely to stick with it. A good incentive is to post a chart on your fridge to keep track of your exercise and take pride in your progress as minutes of movement throughout the day accumulate into hours of healthy exercise by the week's end.
Deliberately walking much more in your home is a great way to begin. Studies prove that clipping a pedometer to your waistband will help you focus on increasing the number of steps you take every day, and that setting a daily goal for steps will help you focus even more. For the average person, 2,000 steps equal a mile and takes about 20 minutes.
Create a route in your house — adding stairs if you have them for an even better cardio benefit — and walk briskly for 15 minutes, twice a day. Walk in place if your home environment is small and a route doesn't make sense. To add interest, put on your favorite music or listen to a book on tape. By the end of the first week, you've accumulated over 10 miles of brisk walking and in the process, helped prevent Type 2 diabetes, reduced high blood pressure, improved your mental health and burned approximately 176 calories a day.
How about checking out yoga, dance or exercise videos from the library or installing a work-out app on your phone? Richard Simmons, Denise Austin and Leslie Sansone all have work-out DVD's that are tried and true. If you can't get to the library, there are any number of simple exercises that will keep your major muscle groups in shape, and require very little space. Here are four excellent exercises that take a total of three minutes — you can do them while waiting for your coffee to brew in the morning. Start with 45 seconds of squats, either holding on to a table for balance or keeping your arms out straight. Slowly lower your body down as if sitting in a chair (keep a chair behind you for safety) and then slowly lift your body back to a standing position. Next, stand about a foot away from the wall, and with your hands straight ahead against the wall, do push-ups for 45 seconds. Next, march in place or side-step for 45 seconds and finish with the plank — a great exercise that keeps the core muscles strong. Lay on the floor, raise your body onto your toes and forearms, and hold for 15-30 seconds.
As you gain strength and feel more comfortable with these exercises, repeat the circuit a few more times (resting for 30 to 60 seconds in between.) By combining these four exercises with 20 to 40 minutes of brisk walking every day, you can maintain fitness and improve your health.
Spending a few minutes every day stepping up and down the first stair, leading with a different foot for each step, is another effective exercise, as is aggressive housework or using household objects as weights that you can lift while watching TV.
With a little creativity, you can turn your home into a fitness center that will keep you in shape until spring, when the outdoors offers a warm welcome once again.
Carol Nixon, MEd is the Wellness Program Coordinator at Berkshire Health Systems