The cold winter months bring a screeching halt to many exercise programs every year. The ability to go outside for a walk, run, or bike ride is hampered by icy roads and sidewalks or even just the reduced daylight hours. Add in a global pandemic where the universal recommendations are to stay home and physically distance, and the normal indoor refuges of gyms and health clubs are no longer an option for winter fitness plans.

Ironically, the combined threat of a highly infectious virus and the mental stress of lockdowns makes exercise more important than ever.

Regular physical activity strengthens the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, helps to maintain a healthy body weight, and even gives a boost to the immune system. The positive impact of physical activity on mental health is not widely appreciated, but the psychological benefits are supported by research.

So how can people resolve to remain active throughout the year, whether it is weather, a global pandemic, or just a choice that keeps them at home? The answers may not be as hard as you might think, and simply require some creative thinking.

Check out these 31 daily challenges you can do to get you started.

Cropped shot of a young woman exercising in the rainhttp://195.154.178.81/DATA/i_collage/pu/shoots/804997.jpg
Don’t let winter bring you down! Check out the tips below to stay active during the cold months.

How Much is Enough

Organizations like the American Heart Association recommend that adults get 30 min of moderate aerobic activity, 5 times a week, along with 2 weekly sessions of strength training. For kids under 18 the recommended physical activity is 60 min per day, 5 times each week. The amount of suggested aerobic activity can be cut in half if it is “vigorous aerobic exercise.”

What constitutes “moderate” and “vigorous” aerobic activity? According to the Mayo Clinic, physical activity that causes your heart rate to rise to between 50% and 70% of its maximum during exercise is considered moderate. Vigorous activity is a sustained heart rate at 70% to 85% of the maximum.

Maximum heart rate is calculated by subtracting a person’s age from 220. For example, the maximum heart rate of a 50-year old would be: 220 – 50 = 170 beats per minute (bpm). For that individual, the target heart rate for moderate physical activity is between 85 bpm (50% of the 170 bpm maximum) and 119 bpm (70% of maximum heart rate). Vigorous activity requires a heart rate of 119-145 bpm during exercise for that same 50-year old adult.

Break It Up

Most health groups recommend that the 30 min of daily aerobic activity be done as a single block to be effective. But some research has found that spreading physical activity out across the day still provides benefits. A recent study found that adults who took 4,000 steps each day reduced their risk of death, regardless of the pace of walking. Similarly, while guidelines suggest 30 min of daily aerobic activity for adults, the American College of Sports Medicine points out that virtually any level of physical activity provides some health benefits.

Connecting at Home

Staying physically active during a pandemic or even just a normal winter takes some creativity. But being creative doesn’t necessarily mean more cost and more effort. In fact, some of the best solutions are free, easy, and convenient.

One big change that has come about as a consequence of the COVID19 pandemic has been the movement of many work activities online. The same remote tools like Zoom, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams that are used to facilitate work from home can also be used to support exercise at home.

Virtual exercise classes including yoga or dance activities like Zumba are widely available, in many cases for little or no cost. For those who want to pair their exercise with social interactions, anyone can use these conferencing systems to set-up and run their own exercise groups with friends and family. People can take turns leading the group or follow virtual classes together. The group effort provides much needed socializing and can act as a support network when motivation wanes.

Amateurs

Concerned about not having the expertise to run an exercise class or maybe the idea of exercising in a group isn’t appealing? YouTube and other streaming websites offer free videos that can be viewed whenever it is convenient, in the privacy of your own home. This offers a great opportunity to not only remain active, but to try out new activities that might otherwise be too intimidating to try in public.

DIY Gyms

Internet access is a luxury for many and service in some areas is not reliable enough to stream or download large video files. But don’t worry: most homes come equipped with all the things needed to create a low-cost home gym!

Jump squats or stand-sits from a chair, push-ups, and burpees are all no-cost, convenient exercises that anyone can do in their home, office, or wherever the motivation to exercise strikes. Homes with stairs offer a great opportunity to increase the intensity of a walk into something a little more demanding. And for an extra challenge, load a backpack with a few books or carry some hand-weights.

Yoga provides a great balance of strength and flexibility. Photo by Avrielle Suleiman on Unsplash

Balancing Act

In addition to aerobic activities, strength training and stretching are critical parts of any exercise program. Yoga programs available online provide a great balance of strength and flexibility. Throwing down a rug or mat on the floor and doing a few stretching exercises can also be an easy way to help maintain flexibility and coordination, while in the comfort of your home or even at work.

Meeting the strength training recommendations of 2 episodes a week is easy if you have a home gym, but it isn’t out of reach for those who don’t have the space or money for a weight-lifting system.

Standard strength exercises like arm curls or squats can be done by lifting books, cans of food, and bags filled with a few items from around the house, or just going from a sitting to standing position while holding something that provides extra weight. Resistance bands are also a low-cost option that require little space and can be put out of sight when they aren’t being used.

Multi-tasking

Household activities can provide much needed movement while being productive at home. In warmer climates outdoor yard or gardening activities offer physical efforts, and even indoor chores like vacuuming or cleaning out the basement and storage areas can get the heart pumping.

Feeling mentally drained from hours of online video conferences? Turn off the camera and get moving. Walk around the workspace to get the blood flowing, or even just do a few sit-stands: stand-up and sit back down in your chair a few times. These can all be done without leaving the room and while still listening to the meeting.

Combining exercise with these everyday chores or work is a great way to improve health while staying productive and getting the things done that are necessary. At the end of the day this will provide more time for relaxation, which is just as critical for health as physical activity.

Full length of worthy caucasian blonde housewife using steamer to clean floor in living room.
House cleaning also counts as physical activity!

Variety is the Spice of Life

Incorporating exercise into your daily routine is important for maintaining consistency, but the monotony of the same routine can cause some to lose interest.

Rotating exercise regimens can alleviate the boredom and help lower the risk of injury from repetitive activity. Create a circuit of 5 or 6 exercises, balancing strength, flexibility, and aerobic activity. Do each activity for 1 minute, followed by 30 seconds to 1 minute of rest. Going through the cycle a few times can provide the daily requirements for exercise. Periodically change the stations to create variety and balance, which will not only help maintain interest, but also allow for a more comprehensive, whole body workout.

Most importantly, select exercises that are convenient, enjoyable, and within your skillset.

Starting is the Hardest Part

If regular exercise is not part of your daily schedule, don’t worry. Start with what you can do and add a little more each day. Exercise should increase your heart rate and breathing, but it should not be uncomfortable or impair breathing. If you feel like it is becoming too much, slow down or stop. It is better to incorporate exercise in a comfortable way. This decreases the chance of injury and increases the likelihood that it will become a regular, enjoyable part of your life.

Regular exercise helps to strengthen and maintain a strong immune system, but excessive exercise can actually weaken the immune system. Ease into a program and work at a pace that is comfortable and invigorating.

If you have pre-existing health issues like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or mobility issues; have a bone or muscle injury; or are pregnant, speak with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program.

Now More Than Ever

COVID-19 demands a strong immune system to ward off its potentially deadly effects, and people with cardiovascular disease or who struggle with their weight are at higher risk of more severe illness and even death. The mental stress of lockdowns and the threat of illness take a toll over time, and the inability to mentally recharge with physical activity just worsens an already bad situation. Exercise, while not a cure for COVID-19, can go a long way towards helping those who are affected by the pandemic.

Even before COVID-19, physical inactivity was a global health threat. Social distancing and lockdowns have limited access to exercise facilities and challenged the ability of many to sustain exercise programs.

Starting and following a home exercise program, and incorporating physical activity into daily routines, are great ways to get the recommended activity that will lead to better health, while maintaining an active life at home and work.

By making exercise a regular part of life and doing it in convenient, low-cost ways, the resolution to be more active is more likely to continue well past the dark days of winter.