How to survive the winter doldrums one mantra at a time

It’s winter. Daylight hours diminish, temperatures drop and comfort food temptations abound. Couple that with the potential for winter colds and flu, and you may feel a malaise coming on.

The idea of exercising might be the farthest thing from your mind. However, physical activity provides numerous psychological benefits. So, before hunkering down under the blanket on the sofa for the season, consider these ways to conquer the doldrums.

Exercise is a depression buster. It naturally and quickly boosts your mood as it stimulates the production of endorphins. As they are structured similarly to morphine, endorphins create euphoric feelings within us and help minimize physical discomfort. In addition, exercise is known to significantly reduce anxiety and stress over time.

If you still need convincing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that even a few moments of daily physical activity can help prevent simple bacterial and viral infections.

Ready to give it a try? Here are ways to help you stay on top of your mood.

Positive self talk

If finding the motivation to get off the couch is a struggle, consider changing your internal dialogue. Empower yourself with a strong “I can fight off the winter blues” approach. Positive affirmations and mantras practiced daily (“I will be healthy and happy this winter”) can help change your thought process.

Keep it simple

Aside from an actual workout, there are easy ways to increase physical activity during the winter months. One simple way to get your body moving is to take the stairs at home, while shopping or at work (even add in a few extra flights). Or, try walking the long way to the bathroom/breakroom during the day. Bundle up and walk the dog at night. Engage in social indoor activities such as basketball, pickleball, racquetball, roller skating, sledding or hockey. Make an outing of it.

Set an activity goal

Challenge yourself this winter by joining a gym, completing a fitness challenge or changing your current routine. Experiment with activities such as swimming in a heated pool, taking a water-aerobics class, joining friends for hot yoga or attending a group class you’ve not tried before. Set physical activity goals that work for you (for example, 30 days in a row, or 5 days a week), own those goals and be committed. Get excited and anticipate reaching the goal. Be proud of your efforts along the way.

Ditch the excuses

Whether you’re just beginning to increase your physical activity or wanting to maintain your current level of fitness without a seasonal setback, you need to be ready to fend off the inevitable list of excuses that will arise. If evening darkness has you feeling sleepy, try working out first thing in the morning, on your lunch breaks, on your days off, while dinner is in the oven, as a social activity with friends or during TV commercials.

If it’s too cold or inclement outside to enjoy your normal fitness routine, layer up and try a new outdoor activity. Nature has a positive effect on mental health. Activities that get you outside such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, snowboarding, snow hiking and nature walks can restore mental energy.

But what about bad air quality? This is a valid concern for residents among the Wasatch Front. If you are used to outdoor physical activity, head to the hills. Our mountains are moments away and offer activities for everyone. The views alone can elevate any mood. Also, the sunlight provides a healthy dose of vitamin D.

What to do if you find yourself snowed in? Try an indoor workout on YouTube or on a DVD. Put on music and dance. Hire an online personal trainer to hold you accountable from the comfort of your own living room.

If you battle a general sense of fatigue, consider focusing on restorative activities like stretching, yoga or tai chi. You’ll find your energy levels, physical strength, flexibility and mental state will dramatically improve.

Food is not the answer

Appetites change during winter months. We crave heavy, rich foods that are high in fat—sometimes to warm our insides, sometimes due to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It could also be simply because we’re bored. Try not to let eating become a winter “activity” or an emotional bandage.

Stay on track as you would at other times of the year, which means indulge on occasion—but not daily—if you want to keep your weight in check. Eat healthy, fresh foods that nourish your body and give it the energy to thrive.

Whether it’s a short in-home workout, a bowling night with friends or a snowball fight with the kids, any physical activity is going to have a positive impact on your mental health. View maintaining your health as a top priority and take steps to keep active this winter.

Knowing you can fend off the blues might just mean you actually embrace winter’s arrival—because for you, winter becomes a happy and active time of year.

As owner/operator of Rock Fit Training & Fitness, Jackilyn Rock is a certified personal trainer who is passionate about helping people of all abilities achieve optimal health and fitness. Follow her on Instagram at @rockfittraining. Photos for the story are provided by Evelyn Cervantes.