December 16, 2015

Ways to Stay Active During Winter Break

Mental HealthBy Rheagan Rizio, USC student, Be Well blogger

The holidays are almost upon us at last! For many of us, this means going home, seeing our families, and spending time with our friends. However, it also means eating much more richly than usual, and this, coupled with a likely decrease in our physical activity, makes the holidays the most common time of year for people to gain weight. And it’s understandable: you’re home for a while but not for too long, and you would rather spend your time doing activities other than exercising, like being with family or friends. The cold weather doesn’t help increase our motivation, and in places with heavy snowfall it can seem next to impossible to maintain a normal exercise routine. While there’s nothing wrong with indulging over the holidays, there are many ways that you can stay active over winter break, many of which can be worked into a normal daily routine.

Indoor Exercise
Exercise doesn’t need to stop just because it’s cold outside: there are plenty of ways to continue exercising indoors. Here are some suggestions.

  • Traditional gym membership. Most gyms are not too expensive, and some offer discounts to college students, especially during long breaks. A gym gives you access to a wide range of athletic equipment that would be open and available to you every day. Most gyms open early and close late to accommodate as many people’s schedules as possible.
  • Home videos: If a gym membership isn’t appealing, or if you don’t have the time to drive or walk over, home exercise videos (or DVDs) are extremely popular as well, and they don’t involve leaving the house. Most of these videos utilize things you have around the house (ex: chairs, stools, etc), and all you may need to purchase are some weights and a pull-up bar (in many cases resistance bands can be substituted for pull-up bars), which are easy to find at a local sporting goods store (home videos are also great to use at school because they can be done in spaces as small as a dorm room).
  •  Specialty studio: A final option (and my personal favorite) would be to get a membership at a club or studio that specializes in a certain type of exercise. Yoga, barre, spinning, kickboxing: all are great exercises that are popular right now, and it’s likely that you’d be able to find a studio in your area fairly easily. Most places offer new student deals and discounts, and also hold a variety of classes for their particular specialty (ex: yoga studios often have bikram yoga, power yoga, hatha yoga, vinyasa yoga, and many other types), so you’re sure to be able to find classes for all interests.

Outdoor Exercise
Trying to exercise outside in the winter may seem daunting at first, but there are many ways to make it manageable and fun.

  • Rake leaves. Raking leaves is an excellent form of activity (as is other, similar yard work). Depending on what part of the world you come from, at certain times of the year its almost a necessity to rake up the leaves that cover your yard. Here in California, as well as in other warm climates, leaves continue falling well into December and even January, so if you’re from somewhere that’s comparatively warmer this time of year, grab your rake and get outside. Who knows… you may even be able to bribe your parents into giving you some type of reward for doing yard work.
  • Shovel snow. For those of you who live somewhere where it snows, shoveling snow off your walkway or driveway is a great activity and a great calorie burn. Plus, as Calvin’s dad in the comic Calvin & Hobbes pointed out to us many times, it builds character. (However, make sure not to overdo it with this particular activity, because that can put a great strain on your body).
  • Winter-themed activities. There are tons of great activities that are associated with wintertime that you can easily take advantage of. Ice skating, skiing, and snowboarding are just three examples of activities people look forward to all year long (true, you can ice skate any time of the year, but it’s more fun during the holiday season). Grab some friends and hit the ice/snow/whatever you want to do: even if you only do it for the hot chocolate reward at the end, it’ll keep you active and get you in the holiday spirit!

*NOTE: If you will be outside for extended periods of time, make sure to dress warmly in layers, (wear a fabric like wool: try not to dress in cotton because it won’t prevent you from losing body heat if it gets wet), wear mittens (these are better than gloves because your fingers are all together inside a mitten), be careful not to slip and fall on icy ground and, if you live somewhere very cold, pay attention to the wind chill.

Other activities:
Not everything you do to stay active has to necessarily be a form of exercise. There are plenty of ways to incorporate movement into normal, everyday situations.

  • While shopping: It’s almost a given that everyone will end up shopping at a mall at least once this holiday season (if you’re like me, you’ll practically live there until Christmas because you’re so concerned about finding the perfect Christmas gift for everyone on your list). Rather than considering this to be an inconvenience that takes up time, use it as an opportunity to move more and burn calories. In addition to walking around the mall, there are several simple ways to increase the amount of movement and subsequent calories burned, including parking farther away from the entrance and taking the stairs rather than escalators or elevators.
  • While doing housework: Sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, doing laundry, and washing the windows are all examples of active housework, as well as common chores you’ll probably be asked to do at one point or another during break. They’re a double win: they make your house look good (which may be necessary if you happen to be having family over for a holiday dinner), and they burn calories at the same time.
  • While watching television: Watching television doesn’t have to be a waste of your time. In fact, watching tv is the perfect time to do low-intensity exercise. If you have a resistance band or weights, you can easily do some resistance training while watching television (or listening to music). If you’re very focused on the tv show at hand and don’t want to distract yourself, use the commercial breaks as set amounts of time in which to exercise. Stretching, holding a plank, or squatting during commercials are all excellent forms of activity, and even if it feels like you’re not really doing anything, always remember that it’s better than doing nothing.

Have a great winter break fellow Trojans. Enjoy all the food (I know I will), stay safe, stay healthy, and enjoy this much-needed break from school: you’ve earned it, and you deserve it.