My wife, Ava, asked why I was in a bad mood. My answer probably did not surprise her. It was another cloudy, cold, windy, and wet day. By the time she asked, though, I was already feeling better.
The weather can really drain my happiness. In fact, I’m not sure I was in a BAD mood as much as I was in a SAD mood and just didn’t feel like talking. I truly wish winter didn’t impact me this way, but it does.
Thankfully, there’s something I can do that always makes me feel better. I go for a walk.
It’s not just me, either. Research has long made a connection between exercise and a better mood. But, there’s always been this chicken and egg thing going on. Which comes first? Do people experience mood lifting benefits because they exercise or do they exercise because they’re in a good mood?
There’s new research that answers that question. One of the keys to this research was how they defined exercise. Oftentimes people self-report how much they get. And, more often than not, people over-estimate just how much they’re moving.
In this new research, the people who were part of the study wore trackers, like a Fitbit, so the experts could get a good gauge of their movement and non-movement. The results were very encouraging.
There is a significant impact on your mood when you exercise. Even more encouraging, that impact doesn’t require long bouts of intense exercise. People reported a better mood if they replaced one hour of sitting each day with an hour of walking. And, that hour of walking doesn’t have to be done all at once. Even activities like putting away laundry make a difference.
Here’s what I do to keep my Winter Blues the lightest shade possible.
SCHEDULE A DAILY WALK
Every morning I wake up earlier than I have to so I can get to the radio station before I need to. I use some of that extra time to walk around the building. This walk is multitasking at it’s finest. I warm up my voice by singing, think about news topics for our morning show, pray, and plan my workday. There’s also something else that happens as I’m walking…it’s a mood lifter.
I do this every morning regardless of the weather, but I can feel the impact even more during the winter. I also have a longer walk later in the day. These are two opportunities to beat down the bad mood winter weather can sometimes induce.
Every now and then I consider whether I still want to wake up as early as I do just so I can walk. It doesn’t take me long to banish the thought. All it takes is the realization of what my day would look and feel like without that short walk…especially in the winter.
TAKE MINI WALKS
Walking is not the only exercise you can do to lift your mood. But, walking is the only exercise you can do just about anywhere and at any time. And, that makes walking perfect for a mini-movement break.
A one-minute walk may not sound like much, but it can be very effective. In fact, it might even feel too long once you try it. Look for opportunities to get up and move for sixty seconds. My office at the radio station is on the first floor. A couple times every day, I’ll walk upstairs and do a loop around the cubicles.
It takes about a minute and I also get to say hi and interact with co-workers I don’t see as much. At home, I’ll take a mini-walk around the kitchen island or a couple laps through the basement.
There’s great benefit to longer walks, but remember the research indicates there’s mood-lifting benefits when we exchange an hour of sitting with an hour of moderate physical movement scattered throughout the day.
LOOK FOR “HIDDEN” OPPORTUNITIES
I don’t like it that our TV is pretty useless when we can’t find the remote. I grew up with TV’s that could be turned on with a button on the front. There were also buttons that allowed me to change the channel and adjust the volume.
I can’t do any of that now without a remote. That means I’ve lost an opportunity to get up and move when I watch TV. Does anyone else feel this way? I’m a better version of me when I move more and sit less…especially in the winter.
And, these opportunities to move aren’t limited to just TV watching. Ordinary tasks around the house can become mood lifters. I’ll take the trash out one can at a time. Folded laundry is carried back to the bedroom on multiple trips. I especially enjoy moving through the house picking up stuff and putting it away…one item at a time.
All of these activities can be a part of the 60 minutes you are shifting from sitting to moving each day.
WALK EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE IT
As much as I love walking, I have days when I just don’t feel like doing anything. If I didn’t have a commitment to reach 20,000 steps, the number on my Fitbit would be pretty low on those days. So would my mood. The more I sit the worse I feel.
I’m writing this on a cold and rainy day. I really don’t feel like doing much of anything. I don’t feel like thinking about this article and I don’t feel like walking. What I would rather do is finish binge watching my favorite show on Netflix.
This is what I love about my commitment to a daily step goal. It forces me to move when I don’t want to. I will finish writing this and then I will get up and walk. And, I know exactly what’s going to happen because it happens every time.
I will start to feel better and my motivation will improve. In fact, I’m going to get up right now and walk for at least ten minutes.
I’m back. I walked for 20 minutes and I do feel better. That walk also helped me think through how I want to end this article.
My last point, walking even when you don’t feel like it, is the most important. And, it’s my daily step goal that sometimes forces me to do the thing I don’t want to which always leads to a better mood.
If you don’t have a daily step goal, I want to challenge you to give it a try. Not only will it improve your mood, it will also help you create a fitness habit. I call it The 30 Day Fitness Challenge. This free guide will walk you through how to get started. It’s very easy.
If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR. This is the Fitbit I use to track my 20,000 steps a day. The Inspire HR also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.
(By the way…if you use the links in this article to make a purchase this blog will receive a small commission. It won’t add anything to what you pay, but letting you know is the right thing to do)
This blog is designed to help you embrace walking as a fitness activity. It’s sustainable, flexible, effective, and fun. Every week I post new articles with stories and helpful suggestions to Win at Fitness.
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Lastly, I don’t want to give you the impression that I believe the sadness I feel during the winter is the same thing others feel who are battling depression. That said, the conclusion of the scientific research I mentioned earlier is actually aimed directly at depression.
Physical activity does have an impact.
I also understand that many people struggle with ANY form of exercise during the winter. It feels too overwhelming to get to the gym and no amount of winter clothing is enough to get you outside for a walk.
I’ve never been a fan of walking on a treadmill, but if a treadmill is the difference between walking when it’s cold outside or not walking at all, I’ll take the treadmill.
If that’s how you feel, I’ve done some research and discovered this walking treadmill by Goplus.
This is a low cost way to conveniently walk for fitness when going outside isn’t a good option. The reviews on Amazon are positive and one of the consistent themes is how easy it is to store. In other words, it’s not a behemoth treadmill that permanently exists in one place because it’s too hard to move. When you’re done using it you can fold it and slide it under a bed or sofa.
The treadmill has an adjustable speed of between a half-mile an hour, which is a VERY comfortable walking pace, up to five miles an hour if you want to move more briskly.
One warning…the Goplus Ultra-Thin Folding Treadmill has a weight limit of 220 pounds.
You can check it out the Goplus Ultra-Thin Electric Folding Treadmill on Amazon here. Read the reviews and make your own decision.
Whether you choose to go outside or inside, walking is a great way to lift your mood and spirits when the winter weather starts to drag you down.
photo by Alex Iby