Winter is upon us.

Look outside… shorter, darker, wetter, colder days are the new normal for a few months. You might take the season as a cue to curl up on the couch, alternately reading, drinking hot cocoa, and hibernating until April.

Tempting… but don’t let winter weather keep you from staying active! Our Minnesota winters are too long. If you use the weather as an excuse, you’ll have way too much catching up to do come spring.

While the weather outside might be frightful at times, you can still go outside for fresh air and exercise when the sun is shining or the snow gently falls.

Cold Weather Demands Self Care

Does it feel like it’s easier to injure yourself when it’s freezing outdoors? There’s a reason for that. Cold temperatures exacerbate joint problems, and cold weather forces muscles and blood vessels to contract as they try to conserve the body’s heat. The reduced blood supply to extremities reduces the functional capacity of many muscles, particularly among folks who aren’t physically fit.

The solution? Conditioning yourself via exercise; stretching in preparation for exercise or chores, especially in cold conditions; and making sure you’re dressed right for the weather so you can stay warm and shed layers when necessary, and you can walk securely over slick surfaces. The payoff: avoiding injury and the accompanying time and money injuries cost.

Casual Cardio in the Great Outdoors

There are plenty of low-key ways to get outdoor exercise in the winter. Dog-walking, snow-shoveling, and simply running some errands on foot will help you get a little casual cardio. Don’t you have memories of magical walks during a snow storm, enjoying the graceful descent of fluffy clumps of flakes? Or silent moonlit walks as cool rays of light glimmer on the fresh snow? You may need to talk yourself into going out in the first place, but it’s often fun, fresh and beautiful to enjoy a winter walk.

Stay safe and bundle up. Make sure you’ve got good traction, with slip-proof winter snow soles on your boots or traction cleats. When walking in the dark, it’s your responsibility to be visible to drivers, so wear light, bright colors, reflective gear, or something that lights up–and the same goes for your dog.

Outdoor Sports and Recreation

We’re lucky to live in a Mecca for winter sports. Downhill and cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, ice skating and hockey are great ways to keep in shape during the winter. You can take a pedal-to-the-medal perspective for extreme workouts, or a casual family-friendly approach. There are plenty of other low-key ways to enjoy the outdoors as a family: sledding, snowball fights and building snow figures and snow forts are all great ways to get family time while working a range of muscles.

Indoor Exercise

Explore local resources for indoor exercise. You can visit gyms and rec centers to explore their options for swimming, yoga, weights, aerobics, dance classes and more. Feeling adventurous? The Twin Cities also offer opportunities to learn trapeze and other circus arts. Social dancing provides great exercise and a fun community: check out square dancing, Latin dancing, or ballroom dancing. The mental exercise of the choreography is also beneficial.

Hibernation Is Not the Answer

The only effective exercise is consistent exercise. Don’t let the weather be your excuse for a season of sluggishness. Staying active is crucial to your health in a variety of ways, including boosting immunity by keeping your lymph system active. A regular fitness program is the perfect antidote to a sedentary job and the food and drink excesses of the holidays.