By CRYSTAL LINDELL - clindell@nwherald.com

Ways exist to fight motivation lag, stay fit in colder months

Alex Levels usually looks to nature to get her through her regular workouts.

“I love the fresh air, and I like the sun,” she said.

Next year’s swimsuit season already is on the 16-year-old’s mind, though, so the Cary resident isn’t planning to give up exercise just because it’s getting cold. Rather, Levels has traded her walking trails for a walking track.

She’s not alone. It’s the awkward time of year between tank-top season and New Year’s resolutions, when exercise not only takes a back seat to pot lucks and parties, but it also starts to look kind of boring.

“Absolutely, it gets more difficult to do things,” said Amanda Salacinski, assistant professor in the kinesiology, nutrition and physical education department at Northern Illinois University. “You don’t want to go outside, so you’re stuck on a treadmill [and] you lose that motivation.”

Even though some might be tempted to throw on a scarf and take on the crisp winter air, there actually are multiple reasons to head inside as the weather cools.

Conditions such as ice often lead to injury, while the cold tends to trick people into thinking they’re more hydrated than they are, said Brad Boelkens, fitness manager with Centegra Health Bridge Fitness Center.

But if that’s not convincing enough, there’s also the unhealthy cooling effect that sweat can cause in the winter if you’re not properly dressed.

“We normally sweat to get rid of heat, and in the cold, you want to keep that heat inside,” Salacinski said. “The only way that exercise in a cold environment is good is if ... it’s enough to overcome heat loss [and] to protect your core body temperature.”

It’s important, however, not to let the loss of sunshine tempt you to give up.

“You want to maintain what you’ve gained throughout the summer,” Boelkens said. “Just to stay healthy and active and to prevent those excess calories from accumulating throughout the holidays.”

John Babcock, an avid runner who puts his gym membership on hold to enjoy the summer months, has been making the weather transition for years.

“My mind has been trained so long to do that,” said Babcock, a Crystal Lake resident.

Babcock isn’t the only one who typically sticks to running over the summer, but many experts agree that the infamous treadmill doesn’t have to be the focal point of an indoor routine.

In fact, moving inside can be seen as a chance to expand fitness horizons.

Aerobic classes, swimming, and sports such as racquetball and basketball all are good alternatives, Boelkens said. He added that strength training with weights also is a good way to stay fit.

Even the treadmill doesn’t have to be monotonous.

“It gets very boring,” Salacinski said. “But you can maybe try doing an interval workout on the treadmill. Just try to break it up a little bit.”

Taking things one step further, Suzanne Janusz, manager at the Curves in McHenry, said her club also offers incentives beyond athletic activities to help members combat winter boredom.

“Over the holiday months, we do have a lot of games and prizes and events to try to keep the women motivated,” she said. “These can be some pretty sad months for people.”

The comforts of a gym also allow continued wearing of shorts, T-shirts and even bare feet in mid-October for people such as Levels. She relies on group classes such as Bodyflow to spice up her routine.

The mix of yoga, tai chi and Pilates combined with soothing studio lights and calming music does offer her something nature can’t.

“You get to relax more,” she said. “You don’t get to relax outdoors.”

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