Staying fit in winter: Avoiding hibernation mode

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In winter our motivation to stay fit and healthy can tend to wane. On cold, winter mornings it can be hard enough getting out of bed, let alone putting on a pair of joggers for a frosty morning run! But as the winter weather rolls in and the desire for a "summer body" is put on hold, the reality is that our health cannot afford a few months in hibernation every year. Adopting a sedentary lifestyle, even just for winter, can have a lasting impact on overall fitness and wellbeing.

When the weather turns cold, many people surrender to comfort food binges and weekends in front of the TV.

Making excuses in winter

When the temperatures drop, we have a tendency to hibernate. People seek comfort in food, sleep, and time indoors. In short, we become less active in winter: 4 out of 5 Australians say that their exercise regime falls by the wayside when the weather gets cooleri. Many people justify their harmful winter habits by saying that it is too cold or dark to go outside and exercise. For many, comfort food is of the fried or sweet varieties, so our junk food consumption tends to increase in the winter monthsi. Combined with less exercise and higher alcohol consumption, giving into these impulses can be detrimental to your health and fitness. In fact, 80% of Australians admit to putting on weight over the cold seasoni.

Even though we may excuse our sedentary winter lifestyle by saying that we'll lose the weight or get fit in summer, damage is still being done to the body - even more so if we don't follow through with the health plan when it does get warmer. With 3 in 5 Australians being either overweight or obeseii, it begs the question of whether these winter hibernation habits can become more permanent over time.

Poor diet and physical inactivity can contribute to an array of chronic lifestyle-related diseases. Sedentary lifestyle choices can lead to hypertension, coronary heart disease, type-2 diabetes, cerebrovascular disease (strokes), some cancers, osteoarthritis, and organ failureiii,iv. These diseases and illnesses are serious problems that can require ongoing medical attention and are known causes of death. Of the top ten causes of death in Australia in 2009, eight were lifestyle relatedv. However, by making healthier lifestyle decisions, you can avoid damage to your health and delay the onset of certain lifestyle diseasesiii.

Resisting the urge to hibernate

You may not realise it, but seasons affect our moods, energy levels and motivation. The short days and cold weather that comes with winter can negatively affect all these things for a personvi. And people are more likely to go into hibernation mode if they are feeling blue.

Going for an early morning run can improve your fitness and mood in the winter months.

One of the best ways to feel better and motivated is to exercise. Cardiovascular activity releases endorphins that make us feel happy and calmvii. A work-out can also relieve stress and improve energy levels - exercise gives you more energy in the day and a more rested sleep at nightvi. On top of that, exercise boosts your immune system, so you'll be better prepared to fight off winter illnesses.

Similarly, our mood is affected by the amount of sunlight we are exposed toviii. Because the days are shorter, people's Vitamin D levels tend to fall in winter. By waking early and spending time outdoors you can benefit from dawn and morning light that is said to be the most beneficial to our wellbeingix. Regular early morning exercise outdoors is a great way to tick both of these boxes at once.

You can tackle the urge to food binge during winter by drinking plenty of water, managing food portion sizes, cutting back on the processed food and eating regular meals. Coupled with regular exercise and time spent outdoors, you can lift your mood, energy levels and fitness in winter. By following this healthy lifestyle, you can also help reduce or delay the onset of chronic disease and other health problems. To stay happy and healthy in winter, fight the urge to hibernate indoors. Coupling healthy food habits with regular physical activity can help to reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease or illnessx.

Being fit and healthy is a great way to ensure you get the most out of life, and to make sure you are there for your family as long as possible. However not everything is within our control and accidents can happen to anyone, at any time. That's why it is important to take other steps to help safeguard your future, such as taking out life insurance. Having an adequate life insurance plan in place can help to safeguard your family's financial security in the event of serious illness or injury. Take the first step today by getting a life insurance quote from Allianz.

i Minx Magazine, Winter weight gain habits de-coded, 2012,

ii Australian Bureau of Statistics, Risk factors, National health Survey: Summary of Results 2007-2008,

iii Australian Government, Measure Up - The link between chronic disease and lifestyle,

iv Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, 2010, Overweight and Obesity in Australia,

v Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011, Causes of Death, Australia (2009) updated 03/05/11,

vi Jarosky, M., 2012, The wintery workout cure, The Sydney Morning Herald,

vii Northridge, K., 2010, Livestrong, Exercise & Brain Neurotransmitters,

viii Kircheimer, S., 2004, Beating Winter's Woes, WebMD,

ix State Government of Victoria, Better Health Channel Depression - seasonal affective disorder,

x Australian Government, Measure Up - Getting Active,