Getting active in the winter

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By Joshua Fleming
OMS-1, WVSOM

As part of the curricula for first year students at West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine is the requirement to contribute 50 hours of community service. Toward that goal, the Mountain Messenger is collaborating with the WVSOM Community Relations Committee in publishing articles submitted by students on health-related topics.

Are you looking for motivation to step away from a sedentary lifestyle? In 1923 Ellen Gould White said “…very many more rust out than wear out.” This statement holds true today. Recent evidence shows that being inactive contributes to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and colon cancer. However, it can be difficult to get the recommended “30 minutes per day,” especially during the winter months. When it is cold outside it is tempting to curl up next to the warm fire with a cup of hot chocolate, and cookies. Nonetheless, it is vitally important to stay active.

Although it would be great if we all had the time, money, and motivation to get a gym membership (and use it), a gym is not necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The good news is, there are other ways to reach the recommended 30 minutes a day of exercise, even during the cold winter months. Starting an exercise plan is not easy. It requires effort and determination. You can start today. There is no reason to put it off for warmer weather. There is plenty of motivation. Do it for your family, do it for your friends, do it for you.

The first step is as simple as standing up and moving around. Current evidence suggests the health risks of being inactive are similar to the risks of smoking. If you find yourself watching hours of TV every day, try standing up and walking around your house or do leg lifts and stretches during commercials. If you talk to family on the phone, then make sure you are always moving during the conversation. If you have a desk job, try setting a timer to stand up at regular intervals throughout the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther from the door in the parking lot, and if you can, walk to your co-worker’s office instead of sending him/her an email. Whatever you do, just stand up!

Once you start standing more often, the next step is to get intentional about exercise. Setting aside time for regular exercise can seem impossible, but if you make it a normal part of your routine, like brushing your teeth, it is much easier to stick with it. It is true, the recommendations tell us to get 30 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity at least five days per week, but even the most moderate activity changes can make a difference. With exercise, something is always better than nothing. Studies show that exercising for 10-minute intervals, three times per day will reap the same health benefits as exercising for 30 minutes at a time. You can significantly reduce your risk for heart disease by walking less than one mile per day.

Once exercise becomes a regular part of your routine, you may struggle to stick with it. The key is to work towards your ultimate goal by setting smaller goals along the way. A few tips to keep you accountable and motivated include setting your exercise/walking clothes out the night before to help keep you committed to your workout, build a healthy support system by getting your spouse and/or family involved, play your favorite music while you walk or exercise, and finally, try new activities you have never tried before. You may find one you really like.

Now that you have some ideas, get out there and start moving more! Take it one day at a time and be patient with yourself. If you don’t do it for a few days, pick yourself back up, brush yourself off, and get back to it. Don’t give up. It could add years to your life.

You should consult your physician or other health care professional before starting this or any other program to determine if it is right for your needs. Do not start this program if your physician or health care provider advises against it.