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Burning Calories During the Winter

Staying healthy and active can be particularly challenging during the winter months. It is easy to wrap up in a blanket and stay on the couch when the weather turns cold and we have less sunlight throughout the day.

Furthermore, the holiday season surrounds us with sweet treats and larger portions that are hard to turn down. It is no wonder a lot of us find ourselves with some incidental weight gain by the time the snow melts in the spring. Luckily there are a few ways we can burn a few extra calories to stay fit during the colder months.

Join a Group Fitness Class

Motivation is hard to find around the holiday season. Joining a group fitness class can give you the extra motivation to get out of bed or get moving even when the sun isn’t out. Furthermore, indoor classes take away the factor of cold weather, giving you one less excuse to skip your workout.

Once you start making friends and plan to take classes together, you will find extra drive to not miss your workout so that you don’t disappoint your friend who is looking forward to seeing you. Workout partners are great for helping hold each other accountable. Any type of class will help burn calories, but high intensity interval classes, that focus on getting your heart rate up, will maximize your calorie burning for those of us short on time.

Workout at Home

"I don’t have the right equipment at home," or "I don’t know what to do." These are other common things that may prevent us from a winter workout. An idea here is to write out every body weight movement you can think of: pushups, sit ups, step ups, air squats, lunges, etc. Now, pick a number of repetitions and round for 2-3 of those movements and write a goal. For example: My goal is to do 5 rounds of 24 step ups (12 per leg), 16 air squats and 8 pushups with a 2-minute break between each round. That is a great work out! Still unsure of what is possible, look on the internet for at home workouts, talk to your friends or reach out to a health care provider for recommendations. Remember, the primary goal for a workout is to elevate our heart rate and move!

Burning Calories in the Snow

There is a reason snow blowers were invented – shoveling snow can be hard work! Many of us consider shoveling snow just another unwanted chore to do during the holiday season. With a different attitude, however, we can look at shoveling snow as a chance to get a small workout in and burn a few hundred extra calories.

The best thing about shoveling snow is that it is both an upper and lower body workout. When you use more of your body parts, you’re not only safer, you’re more powerful. The biggest thing to remember, when shoveling snow, is to be sure to use your legs to do most of the work and to avoid excessive twisting and bending from your back.

For instance, once you get a full shovel load, instead of twisting and throwing the snow over your shoulder, use your legs to lift and pivot to the side so that your back doesn’t need to twist. Before you know it your heart rate will be up from all the mini lunges and squats you are performing.

Winter Family Activities Can Burn Calories

Go sledding with your family members. If the idea of going to a gym and working out is not appealing to you, try to find an activity you actually enjoy. One of the benefits of the holiday season is that a lot of us are surrounded by family members so it is a great opportunity to play with nephews, nieces, or grandchildren.

One great outdoor activity is sledding. Sure, the ride down the hill may not burn a lot of calories, but the multiple hikes back up the hill through deep snow with heavy boots on are certain to get your heart rate up. Multiple trips up and down a hill can actually serve as a form of interval training where you do short bursts of activity followed by short periods of rest. To increase your workout, try to race your family members back up the hill!

Hopefully this list will get you thinking about other ways to stay active during the winter months. Remember that if calorie burning is your goal, getting your heart rate up is essential.

If you have any questions or concerns about your ability to do aerobic activity this holiday season or past injuries that may be preventing you from performing these activities, please consult with either your physician, physical therapist, or other health care provider.

Originally Published: December 2020. Revised December 2022.

Matt Franco, PT, DPT, OCS
Matt Franco, PT, DPT, OCS

Matt Franco, PT, DPT, OCS is a physical therapist at CHI Health specializing in running and gait. Learn more about Run U.

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