With Thanksgiving gone and winter holidays quickly approaching, it’s an ominous time for fitness and health. Cold weather, a surplus of baked goods and an atmosphere of vacation are more than enough to keep college students curled up in blankets and sweaters, drinking hot chocolate and not thinking about exercise.
Health more than likely isn’t on your mind when you go home for the holidays, but isn’t one of the most common New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get in shape? If you play your cards right in December, you won’t have to worry about that.
Just because it’s cold and windy outside doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work out. And you should exercise, not just to counteract holiday treat binges, but because winter is one of the best times to work the body.
Cold environments increase circulation by increasing blood flow, making limbs respond quicker to commands and facilitating easier breathing. So take advantage of the weather and go for a run outside.
Cold weather also has the added benefit of burning fat. The decrease in temperature forces the body to burn deposits in order to make up for heat that is taken away by a chilled environment. And research has shown that some cold exposure can actually boost the number of white blood cells in your body, making you more resistant to disease.
So what exercises can be done outside in the cold? It’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to get a full set of weight machines or equipment outdoors, so the best idea is to stick with bodyweight exercises. Running is extremely practical and best suited for the cold. But don’t rule out moves such as plyometrics or explosive dumbbell exercises. These can be done anywhere outside and are geared toward strength training. If they are tough when warmed up inside a gym, imagine how they are in the cold. It’s double the challenge and actually quite fun.
The best thing to do over winter break isn’t boosting cardiovascular movement or packing on muscle, but it’s actually keeping all the body’s muscles stimulated. Consistent muscle stimulation not only serves to keep the body warm, but also catalyzes metabolism and opens up pathways to muscles, which force the energy from food there, instead of being stored in the body as fat.
So after you’ve noshed on gingerbread or eggnog, do your body a favor and take a walk outside where it’s cold, or do some quick air squats and pushups. This not only helps digestion but helps keep fat gain low. Heavy workouts are great, but if you find yourself pressed for time, focus on the most effective exercises that take advantage of the season in the least amount of time.
Of course, not everyone has the chance to work out in the extreme cold. Many USC students are from southern California, where 50 degrees is considered cold and it tends to stay mild all winter. But that doesn’t mean students can’t benefit from winter exercises.
To get that cold exposure during a run, hit the road at night. The temperature is much lower thanks to the dryness of southern California, and although it might not be as cold as some parts of the world, the chill will provide the same benefits. And then be sure to cap off the run with a Scottish shower — half hot, half cold — to truly game the system.
If running isn’t your thing, try an early morning swim in the ocean.
Swimming is an amazing mix of strength training and cardiovascular exercise, and the water — even colder than usual thanks to the season — is sure to burn fat while you grow stronger. Summer swims and surf sessions are great exercise, but in the winter? They become the best workouts of the year.
Winter is also a chance to get some of the best workouts of any season. Despite the winter environment, it’s easy to avoid the pitfalls of the holidays. I intend to stay fit and healthy over the break. You should as well.
Nicholas Slayton is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column “Way of the Body” ran Tuesdays.