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How to Stay Motivated During Winter

Inspire Health Event Calendar December 11, 2013

As the weather gets colder and the rain and snow set in, most people find it is much harder  to exercise. Common questions are about the safety of outdoor exercise, indoor alternatives, and how to overcome common barriers such as darkness, lack of time, fatigue and cold.  Regardless of the time of year, it is very important to keep moving and maintain a regular exercise routine. 

According to guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM) the amount of exercise that all cancer survivors should be aiming for during and after treatment is 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week (ACSM guidelines). Though movement can sometimes be interrupted during treatment, as much as possible, try to avoid inactivity.  If you are well enough to move, don’t let the cooler weather turn you into a couch potato!

Exercise Safety

Provided the right precautions are taken, everyone is able to exercise safely during cold weather.  This can mean exercising indoors on a treadmill or stationary bike, using indoor stairs, walking in a shopping mall or swimming indoors in a community pool.  

If you plan to take your exercise outside, here are a few tips to help you stay safe and warm and should give you the confidence to move during the cooler months. 

Layer Up Your Clothing

Dressing in layers is extremely important as it allows you to be warm when you first step outside and as your body temperature increases you can remove layers if necessary.  If you are prone to sweating and are planning to work out at a moderate to hard intensity, wear a base-layer designed to draw sweat away from your body (avoid cotton). Add a fleece middle layer to help with insulation and finally, ensure your outer layer is windproof and waterproof as required for your local weather. Be sure to cover your head, ears and neck  and wear gloves and warm socks. If you feel your body heating up during exercise, remove a layer to help reduce your temperature slightly. As soon as you stop moving put all the layers back on. 


Winter means darkness in the mornings and late afternoons and often grey skies during the day. Ensure you are visible, especially if you are out walking or riding.  Bright jackets, small lights, reflective arm bands or material on jackets and even safety vests can help. Do not dress in all black!  Drivers and cyclist cannot see your. If possible, exercise while there is still daylight, but if not, then be sure to make yourself visible.

Warm-up and Cool-down

If you are exercising outside or in a cooler gym it is important that you have an adequate warm-up. This normally involves lighter exercise for a period of about 10 minutes. If you are walking, start slowly and build up the speed over this period. If you don’t warm up appropriately you are at risk of straining your muscles and hurting your joints.  After exercise, be sure to spend at least five minutes at a lower intensity and stretch, especially the areas you were working.

Have a back-up plan: Indoors!

Even the best intentions can be quashed if the weather suddenly changes, so make a backplan ahead of time. Especially during winter, an indoor plan is important, even for those all weather walkers. Indoor workouts might involve using the aerobic equipment in a gym or community centre, swimming in a local indoor pool, walking in the shopping mall or dancing to some brisk music at home. Turn the music up and go up and down your stairs, if you have them, or stip on and off a low bench. A back-up plan is insurance to keep you moving!  If you have no desire to exercise outside in winter, make sure you have indoor plans in place.  Write it down and stick it to your refrigerator door.

When to avoid exercise

There may be times during your treatment when your oncologist or physician wants you to rest or to only exercise in your home or indoors. There is plenty that can be done indoors, so if you need more ideas, contact a cancer exercise specialist.  If you have a cold or flu, it may not be advisable to exercise outdoors or in a public environment. If you have just had chemotherapy, you may need to stay indoors for 2-5 days, depending on your response to the treatment.

If you are unsure of how to choose when to exercise, speak to one of your cancer exercise specialists and we can advise you on what you need for your specific case.

So what are you waiting for?  It’s time to get moving!


About the Author
Sarah Weller, BCAK, CSEP is a Certified Cancer Exercise Specialist. She has over seven years of experience prescribing exercise recovery programs for cancer patients in one-on-one and  group-based settings.