6 Simple Ways to Stay Fit in the Winter

by | Feb 3, 2014

Photo by michael pollak

Sub-zero temperatures and 12 feet of snow? Pffff. That doesn’t stop foodists from staying active.

Last week I asked those of you who live in the colder regions of the planet how you’re keeping fit despite the extreme weather this winter. And just as I had hoped, you demonstrated an extraordinary level of imagination and creativity.

As a California native who has only experienced snow and freezing weather a handful of times, I learned a ton about your winter healthstyles and I’m thrilled to share your insights.

A few patterns emerged that seem to work for a lot of different people:

1. Find ways to workout indoors


Jessica says:

January 28, 2014 at 9:52 am

I swear by workout DVD’s. They are cost effective and convenient. I have a huge collection and when I’m bored with what I own, I scour youtube and can find anything from HIIT’s to power yoga’s. It currently feels like -30 degrees here in northern Ohio and the last thing I want to do is walk outside to do, well anything.

Since the dark and cold do nothing for motivation, I commit to working out in the morning. What makes the DVD’s nice is that I can wake up, put on my tennis shoes, pop in a work out and get going within 5 minutes. 30-40 minutes later, I have my workout done and the last thing I’m complaining about is being cold.


Workout DVDs, hot yoga, stair climbing, boot camps, and apps like Fitstar are all popular alternatives to going to a traditional gym. People seem to have the most luck if they manage to incorporate these into their daily habits at home or at work.

To get 10,000 steps, many folks are making use of indoor tunnel systems that connect buildings at universities and in cities (I didn’t even know these existed) and using stairwells.

2. Invest in the proper equipment


Tom Bruning says:

January 28, 2014 at 3:35 am

The physical and psychological benefits of getting the exercise outweighs the discomfort of getting started. After half a mile I don’t notice the cold much and just enjoy the run. I also adjust my pace and don’t care as much about time when the footing is less than ideal. I have only missed days when it is too cold, or if it is just above freezing and it is raining or sleeting. I would rather run in 20 degree weather and snowing than 40 degrees and raining. The key is finding the right level of clothes to wear.


Those who prefer to maintain at least some of their activities outdoors insist that having the proper clothing and equipment is key to success. Many people find that once they get moving they can manage the temperatures, so the hard part is getting up the nerve to venture out in the first place. Good jackets and other winter gear is essential.

There were lots of recommendations for show shoeing, cross country skiing, snow shoveling, and even ol’ fashioned jogging, so long as you’re properly bundled.

3. Mix it up


Hanna says:

January 28, 2014 at 10:02 am

This is my first winter in Boston and I view it as an opportunity to try new activities: I joined an adult swim team (even though I’ve never had official swim lessons!), when there’s snow I’ve been cross-country skiing in the Boston arboretum, and tonight I’m trying out aerial yoga! I’m also loving being part of a winter CSA, learning to make cozy recipes like squash risotto, roasted radishes, and delicious soups. Bottom line for me has been to try as much as possible to view the cold, snow, sleet, and “wintery mix” as incentive for creativity, variety, and fun. It’s been wonderful so far!


Since both indoor and outdoor activities can be limiting, several people have found success by combining simple daily activities and chores with more fun but less frequent activities outdoors.

4. Recruit friends and family


Junk Drawer Kathy says:

January 28, 2014 at 10:23 am

I walk with 2-3 other people from work at lunchtime, two miles, when the weather is good. When it’s not, we pop into our building’s auditorium with stadium seating. We walk up and down the steps and back and forth each row for about 40 minutes. We still get our two miles in and have a lot of fun doing it. Helps when you’re warm and don’t have to worry about falling on ice!


Playing in the snow with your kids or teaming up with coworkers or friends for group activities seems to be particularly motivating to beat the cold.

5. Make it fun


Jay Gustafson says:

January 27, 2014 at 11:19 am

Recent transplant to Chicago from San Francisco, it’s difficult to change from a glorious runs through the Presidio to the confines of a gym and a treadmill. Psychologically boring, treadmills require a plan to break up the monotony. I find that changing the pace every half mile certainly increases my mental stamina. Also, I try varying the distance each day, adding speed work and the weekly stair challenge (advantage of living in a 20-story building) really serve to break up the routine. So far I’ve stayed motivated through the cold months.


More of an attitude shift than a specific workout, many people stress the importance of making your fitness activity something you enjoy instead of a chore. Whether it’s making an otherwise boring activity like the treadmill more interesting by mixing up the intervals, or trying something new altogether like Zumba, these folks recognize that if you don’t like it you’re probably not going to keep doing it.

6. Just do it


Caroline Albert says:

January 28, 2014 at 10:04 am

Resistance and cardio are done in class settings, and I’m going on three years straight of 6x per week – – woo hoo!
To stay on track, I only focus on getting there. Simple goals work for me! And during workouts I can easily daydream, mess up and stuff, so sometimes I position myself near newbies, which helps me focus, and in turn I’m helping them. Plus I know instructors take attendance. Their jobs depend on good attendance. If my creative head full of excuses starts in on finding a way not to go to the gym, I remind myself instructors need full classes so they can continue. And so sometimes in order to get there I do it for my instructors. Win-win!


A common theme I found is that short days and frigid temperatures do more to sap motivation than actually prevent physical activity. For this reason it’s often more important to focus on simply starting the activity, and worry about following through once you get going.

It was really tough to pick a single winner from the 91 suggestions that were left. So difficult, in fact, that I ended up choosing two. Both winners use a combination of the techniques above to overcome the obstacles that were holding them back from regular physical activity. (I added the bold to a few sentences for emphasis.)


Winner #1:

Henry Z says:

January 28, 2014 at 10:12 am

I have noticed last year that my workouts became much rarer in the winter months, and was baffled as to why. It took me a bunch of self-reflecting to finally figure it out. It basically stemmed from a long trail of assumptions that started with the weather being cold.

1. My first faulty assumption was that I could only wear gym shorts to the gym. Guys do not wear sweat pants or jeans, etc…
2. I do not like using gym lockers because they are dirty, and cost 25 cents, and I hate carrying quarters, or any coins for that matter.
3. I will not change at the gym, as a result.
4. So I have to wear shorts to the gym, meaning on the way to the gym, I will be exposing my legs to the cold, and I can’t wear a jacket either because I’ll have nowhere to put it at the gym.

Once I came to this realization, all I needed to do was devise a plan to overcome these stupid assumptions I held myself to. What I did was…
1) Buy a pair of baggy sweatpants I can wear over my gym shorts.
2) Get a roll of quarters and put them in my car, restocking at the bank whenever it ran low.
3) Get a parking pass near the gym (was only $65, and is worth it if it’ll get me to the gym)

Now I wear the sweatpants and jacket to the gym, keeping me warm on the way, so I’m motivated to go. Once at the gym, I don’t need to change because I can just take off the sweatpants anywhere, and I’ll have a locker to put my jacket and pants in. Problem solved! I have been consistent working out all winter thus far : )


What I love about Henry Z’s approach is how he systematically identified the true reason he wasn’t as active in the winter, instead of stopping with a vague excuse and giving up. He then found a few simple and effective ways to break down these barriers and painlessly solve his problem. This is a shining example of how a foodist’s mindset can be used to overcome healthstyle challenges.


Winner #2:

Cathy says:

January 28, 2014 at 10:29 pm

In the past, I have had a hard time keeping my weight stable in the winter months. Between the holidays and cold weather that makes me want to hibernate, my weight would gradually creep up every year. A little over a year ago, I decided to make a change.

After reading The Four-Hour Body, I started on the Slow Carb Diet in September of 2012 (I’m sorry, I know how you feel about diets.) That year, I actually lost weight during the holidays and through the winter months. Though it felt great to get back to my normal weight, I wanted to take a more balanced approach to eating. I just didn’t know exactly what that might look like.

Then along came Summer Tomato and Foodist. It has helped me to reframe my relationship with food and learn strategies to developing better habits. Now, I am able to stay on track in spite of holidays and other disruptions that get in the way of a constant routine. Working full time and being the adoptive mom of six young kids with special needs keeps me extremely busy. If I can find ways to get tasty (and healthy) food on the table, anyone can. 

For activity, I try to embrace the seasons instead of fighting them. Kids are a great excuse for an adult to do fun things. They love to play outside, so I play with them whenever I can. I love ice skating, which can be enjoyed with older children. Try sledding down the hill at your local park. Trudging back up the hill in boots is exercise, especially when pulling a small child back up the hill on a sled. Making snowmen and snow angels is also fun to do in between shoveling the sidewalk.

When it gets too cold out, we do drills in the house: pushups, squats, jumping jacks, log rolls, egg rolls, bear walking, crab walking. Doesn’t matter, we just get moving. I also love to get in quick Tabata- style work outs. A four minute blast of exercise is easy to sneak in.

I just started a short recalibration to get to the next level. It’s nice to have two winters in a row where my weight has been stable and maybe even in a better range than before. Can’t wait to see what the next year will bring! Bet it’s going to be awesome. : )


Cathy has been able to take incredibly tough circumstances and turn it into a fun and exciting challenge. Instead of getting overwhelmed and disheartened by all the things she can’t do while working full time and caring for half a dozen special needs children, she uses the opportunities she has to bond with the kids and keep them fit as well.

For me the most impressive part is how easy she makes it sound. Cathy clearly isn’t forcing herself to do this. Instead she has built fitness into a habit that is fun for the whole family. I’m super impressed.

Congratulations to Henry and Cathy, and huge thanks to everyone who shared your insights.

This contest was incredibly fun and educational, and I’d love to do this on a regular basis. What problem would you like Summer Tomato readers to help you solve?

Please leave suggestions in the comments.

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4 Responses to “6 Simple Ways to Stay Fit in the Winter”

  1. Jenny says:

    Yes, I agree. This is an informative post. I would like to know more about people’s schedule and how they fit in their workouts amoung other things. I often feel like I’m fighting a losing battle to fit in everything, work, housework, a work-out and then cooking dinner. I often end up going to bed far too late because I’m trying to fit everything in. And for the record we don’t even have a TV, so I’m not wasting my evening time watching that. Any tips and suggestions would be great.

    • Jessica says:

      It sounds trite, but I have to make it a priority to fit it in. If I don’t, the day gets swallowed by other things trying to fit everything in, like you said. When I was a student and in school or working 70 hours a week, I absolutely had to do my meditation and workouts in the morning–no matter how early or rainy or dark outside it was–or it wouldn’t get done, because I would work 14 hours and not get home until 10pm, exhausted. Another way is to take a class, or commit to a schedule with another friend who is excellent at sticking with it–something you feel you cannot bail out of, like a dance class that builds on the instruction every week. Also, if we’re being real….if you have to skip something, skip the housework. Work, working out, and sleep are more important. Cooking also falls below those top priorities as well, for me at least–I think if its 9pm and the difference means you’ll either cook dinner OR you’ll work out, just work out and eat a salad from McDonalds or a frozen dinner (of course cook a big batch of something on the weekends for the week if you can–but easier said than done if you work 7 days a week). If you truly can’t fit EVERYthing in, choose what’s most important and skip the less important stuff.

  2. Lexie Wolf says:

    Also super impressed with Cathy!

  3. As a Midwesterner (currently looking a just shy of a foot of snow outside my window) I can attest to all of this. It’s obviously more difficult in the winter months to stay active, and there are even times when it’s challenging to maintain a positive attitude because it can be days, if not weeks, of dreary winter overcast. The indoors are only so interesting. 🙂 If you workout at home like I do, then it can be a harder battle to workout because the comfort of the couch, a book, a fireplace (especially a fireplace) is nearby. Putting workouts on my calendar and having a specific place at home that I workout in helps though.

    Thanks for putting this together!

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