Spring always feels like something of a renaissance. Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping, animals (and people) are coming out of hibernation.
If the doldrums of winter took a toll on your fitness—undermining your plans, and slowing your New Year’s resolutions to a screeching but all-too-familiar halt—don’t worry, you’re not alone.
The good news: Spring can be a, well, springboard out of that rut. And now is the perfect time to start planning a spring fitness refresh.
Why winter takes a toll on our fitness motivation
“The winter can be really difficult to remain active and especially to get active if that’s not already your baseline,” says psychologist Jeffrey Morrow, PhD, who heads up Southern California Psychology Group, and is an expert in motivation for athletes. “Whether it’s due to the dreary conditions or simply the cold, those roadblocks can lead to major drops in activity and goals falling by the wayside.”
There’s research related to human physiology showing that humans tend to need more sleep in the winter; combine that with less sunlight and colder temperatures and you’ve got a recipe for less activity. After all, who wants to get out from under that warm blanket when it’s freezing!
Winter can also have negative effects on our mental health. A common condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is sometimes called “winter depression” and results in symptoms such as fatigue and low energy, oversleeping, weight gain, and appetite changes. “Even when there isn’t an overt diagnosis of a seasonal affective disorder,” Dr. Morrow says, “I certainly see many clients who clearly have some mental sensitivity to winter time, especially in areas that have extended periods of cold and cloudy weather with limited daylight.”
Why the new season can help you reboot your goals
The changes that come with spring—more daylight, warmer weather, the sense of natural life coming back—can make it a perfect time for a fitness refresh.
Sunlight is well-known to be a catalyst (if not the most important factor, one of the most) for energy levels. Exposing yourself to direct sunlight within the first hour after you wake up is one of the most effective ways to regulate your circadian rhythm and therefore your sleep/wake cycle throughout the day (think: more consistent energy). Sunlight can also improve our mood, and is the most readily-available source of vitamin D, which can help to optimize our muscle function.
Warmer temperatures have also been shown to increase muscle temperature and body temperature, which reduces warm-up times. And exercising in the heat has been proven to boost our aerobic exercise performance. This is why many elite athletes and sports teams travel to warmer weather in the winter to train.
From a purely pragmatic perspective, having more daylight simply means more time for activity, especially if you love outdoor activities.
“Spring is a great time to move workouts outside and take advantage of the changing elements,” says trainer and physical therapist Kristina Kam, DPT. “It can be a huge mental refresh and kickstart for clients’ fitness goals and motivation. I’ll often see a significant uptick in training levels and commitment.”
How to plan a spring fitness refresh
Rather than jumping right back into where you left off last summer, the best way to regain fitness (or accomplish new goals) is with a gradual step-by-step plan.
“The body and mind don’t like change—whether it’s for good or for bad,” says Dr. Morrow. “Therefore, we need small, incremental, measurable steps that can safely and eventually lead us to big changes.”
For example, if your spring fitness reset goal is to run 10 miles a week, work up to it over the course of a few weeks, starting with run/walks if you haven’t been running regularly over the winter. Find a reputable training plan online that suits your current level of fitness. A specific schedule you can mark off day by day will give you constant, refreshing motivation rather than chasing a fuzzy idea in your head.
Even if you’ve been plugging away at the gym all winter long, taking advantage of the nicer weather by bringing your workouts outside can provide a welcome mental boost, and be a creative way to mix up the kinds of exercises you’re doing. For instance, you can head out kayaking in place of arm day, go on a gentle hike as active recovery, or skip that spin class in favor of hitting some trails on your bike. Even taking care of your yard and getting outside to do some gardening can give you one heck of a good workout.
Embracing the outdoors can bring new energy to your fitness routine. The key: Focus on one day at a time, and enjoy the process. I’ll see you out there.