As the winter draws in and we are faced with shorter, colder, darker, and wetter days, it can be tempting to repeatedly press the snooze button on your alarm and forfeit your morning run for a cosy lie in. It’s important, however, to stay motivated and keep active during the winter months. Read on to find out why and how!
Why is it important to stay active during winter?
The NHS tells us that the benefits of regular exercise include lower risk of:
- coronary heart disease and stroke
- type 2 diabetes
- bowel cancer
- breast cancer in women
- early death
- hip fracture
- falls (among older adults)
It’s also important to stay active so that your immune system remains strong. When you exercise and get your blood pumping, immune cells circulate through your body more quickly, which helps them seek and destroy infections. Living an active lifestyle (all year round) contributes to having a stronger immune system and means you’re less prone to illnesses such as colds and flu. This is particularly important in the height of winter when we are generally spending more time inside and in closer contact with others, and therefore when colds and flu are more likely to spread easily. Here are some other tips to keep yourself protected from the flu this winter.
Exercise is something that is accessible to all of us – even those struggling with disabilities, wheelchair users, or people with conditions like arthritis. Those with disabilities keen to get into cycling, for example, can try out Wheels for All, a programme that embraces all children and adults with disabilities and differing needs to engage in cycling. If you’re based in Hastings and looking for activities suitable for those with disabilities and long-term health conditions, there’s a huge variety of groups and clubs available.
Beyond the physical health benefits, being more active can also improve your mood, reduce your risk of depression and dementia, boost self-esteem, and increase your ability to deal with stress.
You may have heard of seasonal affective disorder, more commonly referred to as SAD. SAD is a form of depression that comes and goes with seasons. Symptoms can include:
- feeling sad, down, and hopeless
- lack of energy
- difficulty concentrating
- constant fatigue and oversleeping
- suicidal thoughts
For any form of depression, exercise is hugely beneficial. When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins; hormones which reduce pain and increase our feel-good hormones. Exercising also improves our energy levels, increases our self-esteem, improves sleep, and reduces anxiety… all important tools in combatting depression and SAD.
How to stay motivated to be active during winter
- Put your phone on the other side of your bedroom when you go to sleep, so you’re less tempted to sleepily press snooze over and over
- Try something new! Getting stuck into a new group or activity is a great way to spark some enthusiasm when the weather is a little bleak outside. Take a look at our list of resources at the bottom of this article for ideas on group activities and classes in East Sussex.
- Find a workout buddy and commit to meeting up and holding each other accountable. Whether it’s once a week for a swim at your local pool or every other day for a winter walk, you’re more likely to stick to your plans when someone else is counting on you.
- If the thought of leaving your house and having to wrap up in hundreds of layers of warm clothes turns you off the idea of exercise entirely, fear not. Just because you don’t like winter weather, doesn’t mean you can’t exercise at all. Check out Active on Demand for some pre-recorded class videos, such as seated exercise for older adults, yoga, or even line dancing! Active Sussex also share some more ideas on getting active at home, with some great tips and resources for keeping moving in your own house.
- Set yourself a goal. Not a runner but want to get into it? Try the NHS Couch to 5k programme. Or maybe sign up to a sporting event like Park Runs, which are also a wonderful way to meet others in your community.
As well as being good for your physical health, engaging in group activities and classes is also a great way to stay social during the winter. Loneliness is an issue that can affect us all, at any point in our lives. Loneliness is particularly common in older people, and the Ageing Well Festival in East Sussex saw a number of events and activities organised to bring older people in the community together. Check out some information on dealing with loneliness from Every Mind Matters here.
It is important to stay connected when the cold comes in, as socialising plays a huge part in our overall wellbeing. Some benefits of socialising through exercise, particularly in winter, include:
- Motivational boost
- Moral support
- Holds you accountable
- Develop teamwork skills
- Promotes healthy and friendly competition
- Opportunity to meet likeminded people and make new friends
- Builds your community involvement
Tips to stay safe during winter exercise
- If you are headed for a run or any other outdoor exercise, make sure to do a few warm-up exercises at home. This will help get the blood going before you head outside so that you don’t suffer an injury.
- With the sun making an appearance less and less during the winter, it’s more likely that any outdoor walks or runs you do might be in the dark. Make sure to wear bright reflective clothing so you can be seen easily by others and traffic. If you have a bike, make sure it’s fitted with the correct lights and use a head torch when going for a run, for extra visibility and sight.
- Stay aware, and stay in busy, well-lit areas. Avoid using headphones when out, so you are able to hear what’s going on around you better. Tell a friend what route you’re taking, or take your phone and have your location on.
- Keep an eye on weather alerts (register for East Sussex Cold Alerts here) and make sure not to go out running when dangerous weather is forecast. If it’s snowing, icy, or extremely windy, it might be worth opting for an indoor workout instead.
Don’t break the bank
Staying active and fit doesn’t have to be expensive, and with the cost of living a worry for all, exercise shouldn’t be another stress. There are plenty of group activities in East Sussex that are low-cost or entirely free.
For those living in Rother, there are Health Walks all across the district that are free and are a great way to meet new people while enjoying a gentle walk (up to 1.5 miles) taken at your own pace. The walks are suitable for all ages and abilities, including those who are recovering from illness or injury.
If you’re based in Eastbourne, why not check out some of these local walking groups, which cater to a variety of abilities and level of experience? For those living in Crowborough or nearby, the High Weald Walkers might be just the thing.
Alternatively, if you want to try some routes for yourself, 123 Walks provide a range of one-, two-, and three-mile self-led walks across all of East Sussex which you can do in your own time.
ESCIS helpfully lists a range of exercise classes and activities across the whole of East Sussex, with many at a low cost or entirely free!
What’s available to you in East Sussex?
There’s a number of resources you can access as an East Sussex resident, which can help you get started on or continue your fitness journey this winter.
- Active Sussex
- Active Hastings
- Active Rother
- East Sussex Community Information Service
- One You East Sussex weight loss programmes
- 1Space East Sussex