Even though we haven’t yet hit the cold, dark days of winter, I can already feel the summer evening hours dwindling to a minimum. While I used to have ample time to fit in a trail run or swim after work, now I’m facing the prospect of barely making it home before sunset. And when daylight saving ends, it will get dark even earlier. Unfortunately, this means it gets even harder to stick with our late-in-the-day workout plans, jut as holiday eating season begins.
However, rather than mourn the long, pleasant days of summer (like I am right now) we have to come up with a game plan to stick with, or even start, a workout regimen. Why? Because it’s much more fun to buy a winter coat than to gain one and much easier to get rid of it once we’re back into spring.
Embrace the Morning
If you’re an outdoor exerciser, you’ve probably already started to notice the sunset impinging on your evening workouts. That’s one reason it might be a good idea to make the switch to the mornings. Even though waking up on a cold, dark morning can sometimes be more painful than a root canal, there are many benefits: watching the sun rise while on an early bike ride, getting your exercise out of the way, and an improved chance of sticking with your workout routine.
Join a Gym
A friend of mine who lives in New York City is an avid outdoor runner for most of the year; she usually gets up around 5 a.m. to run along the river, day in, day out. But come November, when the temperature drops low and the days are shorter, she resigns herself to the fact that she can’t stay outside and enjoy it all year. So, she joins a gym for the fall and winter months and heads back outdoors when the daylight and temperatures increase. Gyms are great because they’re always lit, temperate, and you can do your favorite activities (or simulations of them) rain or shine.
We often think that to reap the benefits of exercise we have to do it for sixty minutes a day. However, some research has found that short, intense bouts of exercise may be just as effective as longer workouts.
For instance, researchers at Southwest Missouri State University found that ten-minute spurts of intense exercise that totaled thirty minutes were effective in lowering blood triglyceride levels. So, if you don’t have time to fit in a full workout due to shortened daylight hours, there are two options: do shorter, more intense workouts or do splits, one short workout in the morning and another in the evening.
Check out your local community college or YMCA for fall semester fitness classes. They’re usually inexpensive, will keep you on schedule so you’re less likely to skip workouts, and are held indoors, so you won’t notice the dark or cold.
If You Can’t Beat It, Join It
Less daylight doesn’t mean we necessarily have to alter our usual fitness plans at all. Tracks, tennis and basketball courts, pools, and soccer fields are just some of the places that are lit during the evenings. Though some outdoor activities like trail running or biking can be limited by darkness and inclement weather, other sports can continue as usual.
Get Gear Smart
If you do decide to be active outdoors, it’s important to make sure you’re geared up for it. A light, reflectors, and reflective clothing or tape on your bike helps ensure that cars see you and that you see the road. In addition, if you do decide to keep trail running or hiking, look for a headlamp that will illuminate your way (and always go with a partner). As the cold sets in, make sure you’re still enjoying your workouts and outdoor sports by investing in the proper cold weather clothing and protective equipment.
Take Up a Winter Sport
Fall is a good time to start thinking about winter sports that will keep us active and interested. Snowboarding, downhill and cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing are just some of the sports to look forward to during the winter months.
If you can swing it, by either negotiating with your boss or altering your schedule, working out in the midday is a great way to be outside during the warmest part of the day and not have to deal with the dark mornings and evenings.
Though we often associate swimming in a pool with the summertime, swimming is actually a great activity year round. The water temperature doesn’t really change much throughout the season, meaning that although it may be cold outside, once you get moving in the pool, you will readily warm up. In colder (snowy) climates, pools are usually indoors. And since you’re getting wet anyways, swimming is a great activity when it’s raining out.
However we manage to fit it in, exercise is one of the most important components for good mood, attitude, and health during the shorter days and longer nights. And that will carry us through until next summer.