Ah, February. It’s that time of year where the seemingly never-ending onslaught of snow, ice, and wind has us all firmly in its frigid grip, and to the point where we can barely remember what it felt like to have the sun beaming down on our shoulders while birds chirped happily in the distance.
Okay, so maybe it’s just me who is really *done* with these freezing winter temperatures, but I think we can all agree that the cold winter months can be a struggle to get through. While there are a myriad of great reasons to hole up at home with a heated blanket and a five-season Netflix series, it’s times like these that getting off the couch, out of the house, and moving around is actually to our greatest benefit. While there are plenty of articles, Facebook ads, and Instagram accounts screaming at women to get our “beach bodies” ready, much of that barrage of images and buzz words either reinforces unhealthy stereotypes or just makes us feel bad about ourselves in order to sell us something. And really, who needs that when the temperature alone is enough to make us want to stay in bed all day?
All joking aside, the winter months can be challenging – not just because the snow and cold make it more difficult to go about our daily routines, but also because being cooped up inside has a very real and serious effect on our mental health and well-being. In fact, the short days and long, dark nights in combination with the change in seasons can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder – a kind of depression that affects 15% of Canadians. Even if you don’t suffer from the disorder, winter’s ability to keep us inside and less mobile will undoubtedly have an effect on our state of mind. While some of us choose to book a tropical vacation to temporarily escape the winter blues, not all of us have that luxury. So what is one easy and accessible thing that can be done to combat the lethargy and sometimes less-than-cheerful moods that can hit us when the snow thaw is still months away? Movement!
This is not an article telling you to go out and get a gym membership. Nor is it an article telling you to lose weight, to prepare your “beach body,” or to commit hours and hours each week to sweating your way through some awful exercise routine that you will inevitably give up on in short order. There is nothing wrong with your body! Movement will, however, elevate your mood and help to alleviate some of the aches and pains that come from sedentary winter months. In fact, scientific studies have shown that moving our bodies increases blood flow to the brain, which reduces anxiety, improves memory, and helps us sleep better. And physical activity isn’t just relegated to the squat rack. There are a number of ways you can incorporate movement into your life without breaking the bank or requiring a lifestyle overhaul.
For those of us who can, walking is the simplest way to add movement to our daily lives. Sure, it’s cold, but that’s what all of those scarves and mitts your Grandma knitted are for. Bundle up and walk home from work a few times each week. Walk to the grocery store instead of driving. If you do drive, park a little further from the entrance, and choose a basket over a cart. And when you get to work or to the mall, take the stairs instead of the elevator. This might seem minor, but little additions like this add up. Better yet, track your daily movement with an app like Life Cycle. Then you can see how much of a difference each of those small changes can make overall.
Mobility is absolutely crucial to our overall health and well-being, especially as we age out of our teens and early twenties. Stretching and mobility exercises are criminally underrated – especially for those of us who work at a desk, are on our feet all day, or have kids to take care of (so, you know, all of us). Doing even twenty minutes of stretching and mobility work before we get our day started or before we head to bed for the night is not only easy to incorporate into our daily routine, but will make a huge difference in our sleep and mood. There are a plethora of YouTube videos that you can follow along with at home (for bedtime stretching routines try Fitness Blender and for basic yoga routines try Jessamyn Stanley or Yoga with Adrienne), and a number of stretches that you can do at work to break up your time spent sitting stationary at your desk (try these ones from Officevibe).
The biggest problem most people have with committing to some kind of physical movement in their everyday lives is that they don’t actually enjoy it. How long can you really stand carting your tired body to the gym only to have to wait for a free machine or endure the judgey gaze of the local hardbodies before you finally throw in the towel? Movement should be enjoyable, so one way to incorporate it into your life is to find a team sport that you enjoy, or to join in with your kids’ team sports. Check out your local leisure guide for dodgeball or volleyball teams or even dance classes. Volunteer to help coach your kids’ (or niece’s or friend’s kids’) soccer team and bring your runners so you can do the drills with them. If you live in a city that is under the cover of snow for months at a time, then take advantage of the outdoor activities on offer. Get some friends together to go tobogganing, snowshoeing, skiing, or ice skating. Don’t have the equipment? Most community centres have rentals that won’t set you back too much. If that’s not your thing, grab a friend, get a coffee, and take your dogs to the park. Don’t have a dog? Local shelters would love to see more volunteers come to walk their cooped-up pups. Still not convinced that you should even set foot outside? Hit the local pool. Not only will you feel amazing after doing a few laps, but the hot tubs and saunas are great for tricking you into thinking you’re actually in Mexico. Don’t let winter win, get out there, make the most of the snow, and explore your city.
The key to successfully incorporating movement into your life is to be realistic about what you can do and how often you can do it. If you want to try doing yoga at home, don’t aim for seven days a week. Start small, and build up from there. Keep yourself wanting to come back to it. Don’t expect to be able to walk home from work every single day, but plan one or two days a week to take the trek home, and watch the difference a little more movement makes in your life.