ON a chilly winter morning, personal fitness trainer Muhammad Zubi likes nothing better than jogging “as the sunlight creeps through the trees.
There is nothing like it to make you feel alive.”
For most people, though, hibernating and consuming comfort food and drinks is all they want to do. This is a recipe for sluggishness and weight gain, Zubi says.
“Staying fit is a lifestyle, so while winter presents challenges, I enjoy it. The cold weather tends to lower the heart rate for outside activities, which enables me to increase the intensity of my workout and get through more activities.” Making exercise a lifestyle is crucial if you want to maintain the routine through winter, he says. “Taking care of yourself is not seasonal it is for life.
“A consistent and healthy exercise routine increases energy levels and strengthens your immune system, particularly when all your family, friends and colleagues are getting sick, and encourages you to eat better.”
Zubi provides the following tips to help people emerge from winter in good shape:
• Plan ahead and create a routine that works for you. Don’t read health magazines and try to perform a winter routine designed for a celebrity who trains six hours a day. Try for three days a week.
• If you hate running, why do it? You will be more motivated to continue your winter routine if you choose activities you enjoy.
• If you are struggling for motivation, find a “gym buddy” with whom to train. Choose something social over something isolated — such as squash with a friend rather than a swim on your own.
• Be more conscious of what you eat. Often, we feel pressured at parties or family gatherings to eat and drink. Don’t go to a party while you are hungry.
• Commit yourself and be consistent. If you need to reduce the intensity or frequency of workouts to achieve this, then do so. Rather commit to 20 minutes three times a week than one hour every now and then. Consistency breeds results.
• Preparation is the cornerstone to simplicity and success. Make it easier by setting winter goals. Goals help people stay focused and increases their chances of remaining motivated — for example, maintaining your weight, or improving your run from 5km to 10km over three months. You are competing only against yourself, so set realistic and relevant goals.
• Dress appropriately. It can get pretty cold out there, so make sure you stock up on the right gear.
• Cook at home instead of going out. People tend to eat more food in restaurants than at home.
• Take as many opportunities to be active as possible: use the stairs instead of the lift; carry shopping to the car instead of using a trolley; walk to the shops.
Hot drinks help to get people going on a cold day, but Johannesburg-based dietician Nathalie Mat says sugar and milk contain a lot of energy and should be used sparingly to keep the kilos off. Regular, healthy meals are crucial.
“Maintaining a healthy weight in winter does not mean going hungry or skipping warming foods. The key to staying slim is understanding your satiety,” says Mat, who advocates the Volumetrics plan devised by US nutritionist Barbara Rolls.
“Warm and high-moisture foods have been found to be more satisfying than cold and dry foods. For example, half a cup of dry oats mixed with cold milk may be a reasonable portion, but cooking those oats in water and milk to make up one cup of warm cooked oats is a more filling and satisfying option for the same amount of food and energy.”
Although most people may not want to eat salad in the cold months, Mat says it is important to fill half of a plate with fresh produce. “An easy way of doing this is making use of broth-based vegetable soups. This will make sure your stomach is filled with mostly vegetables, without having to add a lot of oil, cream, or other high-energy ingredients,” she says.
Flavour can also be really satisfying, she adds.
“Adding heat in the form of chilli or spices can help manage the total amount of food you eat, as a small portion of flavourful food can feel more satisfying than the same portion of bland food.”
People who lack motivation to keep in shape in winter should consult a dietician. “A dietician can act as your health coach, helping you find strategies to stay on track and can also be the person you are accountable to,” Mat says.