Exercise in the Winter: A Physical Therapist’s Tips

This post was written by Esther Barker, PT/DPT, a staff physical therapist for JeffFIT . She sees patients at the at the Stephen Klein Wellness Center. She strives to bring Jefferson quality-care to the North Philadelphia community, closer to patients’ homes for convenience and improved outcomes. In her spare time, Esther enjoys running, teaching aerobics, and traveling.

This time of year there is a common plight for all: 1) the thrills/woes of social eating… and overeating; and 2) cold-induced laziness. For some reason, in response to our changing appetites, we actually tend to exercise less instead of more! You could blame it on the shorter days or the bitter cold. Whatever our excuse, it’s a trend that cannot be ignored. So how do we combat overindulging food and under-indulging exercise? As a physical therapist I have some strategies that have worked for me, but at the end of the day it comes down to action, and you!

Plan, Plan, Plan!
You’ve got to make exercise important to you. You wouldn’t skip an important appointment or a work meeting because you “don’t feel like it”. If you treat exercise the same way, as a practicable part of your schedule, then you are less likely to skip. So get it in your phone’s calendar, set up alerts, and then DO IT.

Find something you enjoy
No matter how much you plan, if you don’t enjoy exercise it will always be difficult to continue. So we recognize not everyone out there enjoys pounding the pavement for 30 minutes a day. If that’s not your pot of tea, figure out what is. Many of my peers opt for Zumba, yoga, kick-boxing, swimming, hiking… the exercise world is yours to explore. The good news is there are tons out there to combat the winter blues. Exercise can be a source of joy instead of a chore. Not to mention there are so many benefits to exercise. Just a few reasons to trade your slippers for sneaks: It helps decrease stress; it produces endorphins; and improves cardiovascular health. Half of the battle will be in your mind- switch up your mentality and get out there!

Get an accountability partner
Once you’ve picked your exercise poison, so to speak, and you’ve scheduled your workout times- what happens if you don’t go through with it? Honestly? Probably nothing…save for some guilt or discouragement. So get some accountability! I’ve used accountability partners in many other aspects of my life- why not in exercise? If you have someone who is right there with you- knows your personal struggle and is struggling with the same thing- chances are you can motivate each other to keep up with your routine. Join the same class, meet up for a run, meet at each other’s apartment and go through a workout together. Find ways to motivate each other! But, don’t choose that friend that motivates you to go in the opposite direction. There are friends for exercise motivation, and there are friends for ice-cream motivation. Choose appropriately.

Home exercise
As a PT, we certainly trust our patients to be consistent with home exercises to see improvement in the deficits they have- be it strength, flexibility, or just plain mobility. So we KNOW it’s possible to get good exercise at home. If you can’t go out for a run, or make your way to the gym, get resourceful! The internet has a plethora of resources available to you to get you moving. Here are 2 of my favorites, with a free app if you are so inclined!

New York Times 7 Minute Workout

New York Times Advanced 7 Minute Workout

If you do venture outside, be careful to consider temperatures, appropriate gear, and warming up your muscles/joints with simple indoor activities: jogging in place, high knees, butt-kicks, or modified jumping jacks. Do not go straight into a sprint upon stepping outside. Visibility is certainly a big factor for winter safety.  Remember to wear reflectors and be safe!

Set goals
I think many people get stuck with the notion that there must be some grand gesture- like 2 hours at the gym every day to ensure a change towards healthy habits. Research suggests that its takes 66 days to form a new habit– subject to variation depending on the habit, the person, etc. The breadth of the “healthy habits” is quite wide. Make goals for yourself and make them realistic. Take the stairs. Walk 15 minutes after dinner instead of the usual marathon online streaming. Run 3-5 days a week. Do the “New York Times 7 minutes Workout” three days a week. Try a new class once a week. Find a goal that works for you and keep at it!

Don’t give up after one bad day/week.
If you’re looking to see a change and get some cardiovascular improvement, then chances are you won’t do so without a few setbacks. We are human so this is no surprise. Show yourself some grace and if you miss one of your “appointments”, don’t beat yourself up. Figure out where you strayed and get back to it the next day. You won’t regret trying.

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2 Responses to Exercise in the Winter: A Physical Therapist’s Tips

  1. Peter Jeong December 7, 2016 at 10:42 pm #

    This is well written and thoughtful. I will definitely use these suggestions.

  2. Doriela Taba January 3, 2017 at 9:44 am #

    You wouldn’t skip an important appointment or a work meeting because you “don’t feel like it”. …….Love that. I’m going to schedule in my daily workouts for the next month, today.

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