It’s cold outside — and, no, we’re not just talking about the Seattle Freeze.
Winter in the Pacific Northwest means frigid temps, frosty conditions and the sort of chill that cuts through even your fanciest Gore-Tex jacket. So donning spandex pants and freezing your buns off while you hightail it to the gym doesn’t exactly sound like your idea of a good time.
We get it.
When the weather outside is frightful, it’s tough to fit in the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity you need each week. But eschewing a jog in favor of a Netflix binge on your couch isn’t exactly a great alternative.
“Being physically inactive has a huge impact on your physical and mental well-being,” explains Cindy Lin, M.D., a sports and spine physician in the Rehabilitation Medicine Department at University of Washington Medical Center.
“A lot of issues stem directly from physical inactivity,” adds Nicole Gentile, M.D., Ph.D., a resident family medicine physician at the UW Neighborhood Northgate Clinic. “We know that it’s directly linked to several chronic diseases like heart disease, colon cancer, breast cancer, strokes and depression.”
According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for death in the world. Studies show that a lack of exercise is actually worse for your health than heart disease, diabetes and smoking — not to mention being bad for your mental health, too.
So what’s a winter-trapped Seattleite to do?
Don’t worry — Lin and Gentile have your back. Here are their tips for getting your daily dose of physical activity, all from the comfort (and warmth) of your own home.
Try compact (and affordable) exercise equipment
If you want to enjoy your Netflix binge and get your exercise in, too, a home fitness machine may be the perfect arrangement.
Fold-up stationary bikes, desk cycles and mini elliptical machines, which you can stow in a closet or slide under a desk, are a few space-saving choices Gentile recommends.
Some models cost less than $100, making them significantly more affordable than many full-size exercise systems.
“You can get on the machine for 30 minutes while you watch TV,” says Gentile, who has a folding bike herself. “It’s really easy for those who have kids or work long hours.”
Resistance bands and jump ropes are other low-cost options for strength training and quick cardio sessions that don’t take up any floor space in your home. After getting your sweat on, you can simply coil them up and stash them in a drawer.
Incorporate household objects into your workouts
If you don’t want to commit to or don’t have the budget for exercise equipment, commandeer everyday items around your home to weave into your workouts.
“Even water bottles or half-gallon milk jugs can substitute as free weights for strength training,” Lin says.
Stools, stairs and chairs are great for step-up exercises and are perfect for doing triceps dips, while any free wall space can be used for scaled push-ups or wall squats.
Parents can even repurpose their baby carriers in the name of exercise. Just strap on the carrier — minus the baby, of course — and stuff books or other heavy objects inside to add a little intensity to your squats or lunges.
Throw your body weight around
Don’t want to fuss with equipment? You just need a little floor space to get in a seriously good workout for your arms, legs and core.
Body weight exercises are just what they sound like: Simple yet effective moves that take advantage of your own body’s weight to build up strength and endurance.
Some tried-and-true examples are push-ups, crunches, leg lifts and the deceptively difficult plank. Once you familiarize yourself with basic body weight exercises, incorporate more advanced skills like burpees, “mountain climbers” and “Russian twists.”
You can even make an exercise game out of it by creating your own fitness card deck. Write down your favorite moves on flash cards, shuffle the stack, draw a few cards and — voila! — instant workout.
Try a virtual class
If a guided sweat session is more your style, bring the fitness class to your living room.
Several companies specialize in streaming workouts for a variety of exercise styles, from barre and yoga to Pilates, dance and core. All you need is a subscription and an internet connection to start toning your glutes on demand.
Lin and Gentile note that there are plenty of free yoga classes available online, too.
Personal trainers are also getting in on the virtual exercise game, with apps that feature audio-guided workouts that pipe the voices of various fitness gurus through your headphones.
Other apps can match you up with a fitness coach in your area. Once you and your chosen trainer connect, start receiving personalized workouts, feedback about your technique and customized exercise goals.
The beauty of these virtual workouts is that you can do them at home or even while traveling — all on your own schedule.
Build exercise into your everyday routine
The most important at-home exercise tip from Lin and Gentile? Fit in physical activity where and when you can. Before you know it, exercising may be as much a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth.
“A lot of people get intimidated because the national guidelines recommend 150 minutes every week and they think that is all or nothing,” Lin says. “For most individuals who are inactive, even starting with a short bout of exercise for 10 to 15 minutes at a time is a step in the right direction.”
Gentile adds that starting small and slowly building up your exercise routine, especially if you’re a beginner, can help avoid injury and prevent you from feeling discouraged.
Lin suggests incorporating small increments of physical activity into your everyday life. Plank for a minute every night before bed. Do jumping jacks during commercial breaks when you’re watching TV. Try standing heel raises while gargling with mouthwash. Or commit to a simple seven-minute workout that you can do in the morning every day.
In winter, people move and get outdoors less, so having exercise built into your day-to-day routine can help without making it seem like a daunting task.
“The take-home message is that exercise can go a long way in preventing and managing many common medical conditions, from diabetes and obesity to back pain and depression,” Lin says. “With creativity and willpower, there’s a way everybody can find a way to be more active.”