Winter is No Time to HibernateNov 30, 2021 ● By Brendan M. Cournane
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cournane The author kayaking in Antarctica
Winter brings a natural transition. We see shorter amounts of sunlight each day, and gone are the late evening sunsets as darkness surrounds us before dinner. When temperatures plummet, nighttime comes early and the wind rises with a chill in the air, it can be difficult to motivate ourselves to stay active, knowing that the cold and snow of winter are around the corner.
When trees lose their leaves, it may bring about a sense of loss until we recall the reason is to conserve energy for the shorter nights and colder weather, only to blossom again when spring erupts. Like the trees, humans can conserve energy in winter while resetting goals and recommitting to them.
There is a natural progression to life. We start an activity, increase our activity, reach a goal and then relax until it is time to start again. Rest and recovery are important both in nature and in humans up to a point. Winter is not a time of loss. Rather, it provides time to review, reset and recommit.
Get Out the Door
While it may seem more appealing to curl up in a snuggie with a cup of hot chocolate in front of a fireplace rather than head out the door for a walk or a run, exercising in winter is more exhilarating than any other time of the year, with studies showing mood improvement through exercise.
Often, we feel we have accomplished enough in the warmth and sunlight of summer only to feel the draw to rest and hibernate during the winter months. Instead, take stock of the goals set earlier. Whether or not those goals have been met, winter is a maintenance season that sets the stage for further improvement when the time is right. Our winter outdoor exercise routine may be less vigorous than in summer, but is it not less beneficial (with a little preparation on how to run in cold weather).
Without a review of where we are at and where we want to go, there is a tendency to stop our activity completely. Instead, resetting our goals in the fall, maintaining a base in winter and planning for springtime sets the stage for continued improvement, starting from a solid base, not from square one. While less activity is commonplace in winter, it is important to have a goal and a plan.
It is important to understand our favored personality type: Tasmanian devil, eagle or honeybee. The Tasmanian devil is nocturnal and performs best at night; the eagle in the early morning; and the honeybee in the afternoon. No type is inherently better than the other; each evolved differently and performs better at certain times of the day. Likewise with humans. We may perform best in the evening, the morning or the middle of the afternoon. Knowing our type is a way to stay motivated in an exercise program, setting time to exercise at a time most conducive to our best performance. This is more important when exercising in winter than in the spring and summer, as there are enough other distractions in the cold.
Following a routine is key to staying motivated in the fall and winter. Knowing when we are most likely to exercise sets the routine.
Tips for Motivation
Having reviewed our personality type and reset our goals, we recommit to the activity. Here are five steps to get and stay motivated in winter:
Get moving; any movement is better than no movement; even 15 or 20 minutes is better than nothing—if we can’t fit in a full workout, get a partial workout to maintain the routine
An outdoor workout is better than an indoor workout; being in a natural setting increases the benefits to the body and the mind
Grab a buddy; committing to meeting a friend increases the likelihood of completing a workout
Stay untethered; exercise without multitasking, stay focused on the moment, not being on a Zoom call or answering the phone when exercising
Keep it natural; feel the rhythm of the exercise and don’t rely on music or technology to set the pace
Following these guidelines improves the likelihood of getting to and continuing what is sometimes referred to as a ‘runner’s high’, or state of mindfulness. While the condition of runner’s high is physiological and occurs due to a chemical reaction in our brain—a combination of dopamine, cortisol and adrenaline working together to achieve the effect—mindfulness is a confluence of physical, mental and emotional responses as a result of self-awareness and recognition of an inner state of being by non-reactive, non-judgmental attention to what we feel in the moment.
Like the trees conserving energy by dropping leaves or flowers hunkering underground to await spring, we too are invigorated by exercising intentionally in winter.
Brendan M. Cournane is a professional development coach and endurance athlete who helps his clients understand why they do what they do and how to align their core values with how they work and live a happier life. Find him at CoachBrendan.com.