By Gerald F. Joseph, Jr, MD
President, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Starting or maintaining a fitness plan can be a challenge during the winter months. Harsh weather conditions and fewer hours of sunlight can cause a person’s dedication to drop faster than the temperatures. But please don’t pack away your sneakers until the spring!
Regular physical activity can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers, Type II diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It can improve your ability to perform daily tasks, keep you mentally sharp, and help you avoid injuries. Exercise during the winter can also help you:
Boost immunity. During cold and flu season, exercise can help you dodge the seasonal sniffles. Regular activity appears to boost the immune system, making it easier for your body to handle wintertime bugs. Flu vaccination and frequent hand- washing can also help keep you healthy.
Stave off holiday spread. Weight gain is a reality for many Americans during the holiday season. Over the years, those extra pounds can add up, often contributing to the 20–30 pounds that most Americans gain during adulthood. Exercise can help you balance the number of calories that you eat with the number of calories that you burn, so you can enjoy some treats without the negative consequences.
Have more energy. Late nights, gift shopping, and extra social commitments can all be a drain on your energy stores. Physical activity can reduce muscle tension and lead to better sleep and more energy.
Reduce stress and improve your mood. The shorter days of fall and winter cause some women to experience seasonal affective disorder, a condition marked by symptoms such as tiredness, irritability, cravings for complex carbohydrates (such as bread and pasta), and depression. For others, a hard day at work or holiday visits with family and friends can be very stressful.
Exercise is one of the best natural antidepressants around and can help relieve stress and anxiety and improve your mood. It can induce a calming effect by raising body temperature and increasing blood flow to the brain. Exercise can also help lower levels of stress hormones and boost levels of the feel-good hormones.
ACOG recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (eg, brisk walking or bicycling) on most days of the week to lower the risk of chronic disease, 60 minutes on most days of the week to maintain weight, and at least 60 to 90 minutes a day to lose weight.
If you can’t get a full workout in every day, try raking leaves, vacuuming, or taking the stairs. Or winterize your workout with cold weather activities such as ice skating or skiing. Any physical activity helps, so fight your inner couch potato this winter and get moving.
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