How to get active after you’ve hibernated for the winter

How to get active after you’ve hibernated for the winter

Does winter have your joints sounding like an old door hinge? For many, colder months have meant winter hibernation with more streaming videos from the couch and less getting active. With spring right around the corner, it’s time to get back into the swing of things — but not so fast.

Spending months immobile can leave your muscles and joints a little rusty, meaning it’s important to reintroduce physical activity into your routine in a slow and steady manner. You’re not alone. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans reports that nearly 80 percent of American adults and adolescents do not get enough exercise.

“Those new to exercise or who’ve been sedentary for a while should talk with their health care provider to discuss if they have any exercise restrictions based on their personal medical history,” explains Kathryn Droese, physical therapist at Aurora Health Center in Menomonee Falls, Wis. “If pain or other physical issues have prevented an active lifestyle, physical therapy can help with pain management and exercise strategies to assist with areas of difficulty.”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with where to start, Droese recommends starting off slow and building on each exercise session to prevent significant soreness and discouragement.

“Many start off their routine too vigorously,” says Droese. “If you’ve been sedentary, this may mean starting with a five to 10-minute walk. As activity tolerance improves, then work up to adding five minutes each week. By eight weeks, you should be up to a 45-minute walk.”

Progressive walking and stretching are some of the low-impact activities Droese suggests. Stationary biking and water exercise are great conditioning options as well. As your tolerance improves with these low-impact activities, then you can add strengthening (use of light weights or bands) and core exercises (abdominal and back). You can even do a few low-impact activities from home if the weather is keeping you indoors.

“When starting out, it’s recommended to exercise at least three to five times a week. If you have a low tolerance, then little bits of exercise daily will help you work up to increasing your exercise time to the recommended 150 minutes/week as outlined by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.”

Getting active again can introduce you to injury, but there are precautions you can take.

“Stay hydrated. Perform stretches before and after conditioning or strengthening exercises and incorporate a warm-up and cool-down period,” Droese says.

“Most importantly, you need to monitor exercise tolerance. The easiest way to monitor exercise tolerance is through the ‘talk test’. For example, you’re walking pace should allow you to maintain a normal conversation,” she says. “If you can’t finish your sentence because you’re gasping for breath, your pace is too fast. If you can talk effortlessly, you’re walking too slowly.”

Getting up and off the couch after a long winter is the first step to leading a healthier lifestyle, and once you do it’s important to make being active a habit by staying motivated.

“When muscles are strong it decreases the pressure on joints, and arthritic pain can be reduced,” notes Droese. “Exercise and a healthy diet can optimize muscle function and help maintain a healthy musculoskeletal system.”

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Chelsea Schwabe
Chelsea Schwabe

Chelsea Schwabe is a public affairs and marketing operations manager for Advocate Aurora Health’s central Wisconsin region. She has eight years of experience in creative storytelling, PR campaign development, and media relations. She holds a bachelor’s degree in strategic communications from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. When not working as a wordsmith, she can be found hiking mountains, enjoying music, and riding her motorcycle.