Exercise is almost more important in winter than in summer. That's because the short days and cold weather may contribute to feelings of depression in some people, says Lisa M. Shulman, MD, FAAN, professor of neurology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and an expert in Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders. “Exercise can help overcome feelings of depression,” she says.
These tips can help keep you motivated to exercise all winter long.
Talk to your doctor. Clear any new exercise routine or change in an existing routine with your doctor to be sure it doesn't pose any risks for your condition.
Try more than one option. “Seek out lots of opportunities for activity,” says Dr. Shulman, who recommends joining a fitness club or using weights and doing other exercises at home.
Join a gym. Some gyms let you join on a month-to-month basis, giving you the option to end your agreement when the weather improves. Check with your employer or insurance company to see if they offer discounts on gym memberships.
Call 311. Most cities have a free 311 number that offers information about city services, including free or low-cost exercise classes such as tai chi, often held at indoor centers in the winter. Or check your city's official website: Look for exercise classes on the “parks and recreation” department page or type “exercise” into the site's search engine.
Walk the mall. Many shopping malls open early on some or all days just for walkers, providing access to well-lit, warm, even walking routes with shop windows to look at, clean restrooms, and plenty of parking. Some programs are run in partnership with a local YMCA or YWCA or hospital. The Bellevue Square Mall in Washington State has a walking program three mornings a week before stores open that includes a trained coordinator who can take blood pressure, log distances, and remind participants to stay hydrated. To start your own program, read the guide offered by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at http://bit.ly/CDC-MallWalking.
Ask patient organizations. Many patient associations, such as the National Parkinson Foundation and the National MS Society, offer resources and tips, including indoor routines and videos of chair exercises.
Try online classes. Many organizations, such as the AARP and the YMCA or YWCA, offer online classes taught by trained instructors. That's important to Lisa Milligan of Gainesville, FL, who has spasmodic dysphonia, which causes her vocal cords to spasm and impacts her ability to speak. She says her online yoga class is cheaper than a studio class, and she never has to miss it because of bad weather. Before starting an online class, clear it with your doctor. If you can, check your technique with a physical therapist or trainer to make sure you're doing the exercises correctly and safely. If you have a physical therapist, work with him or her to develop a safe program at home that matches your specific abilities.
Buy an indoor bike. Inexpensive stationary bicycles are ideal for winter, says Alexander Pantelyat, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and director of the Johns Hopkins Atypical Parkinsonism Center. “Put your bike in front of a television or cycle while listening to music,” he says. He also recommends seated steppers and pedal bikes for people whose arms are too weak for the bike. “Engage in an activity you enjoy and that gets you to break a sweat, if cleared with your doctor,” says Dr. Pantelyat, who also suggests using a fitness app to help track daily and weekly progress. Many are free to download.
Spring clean in winter. Cleaning your house counts as exercise, says Kevin E. Crutchfield, MD, director of the Sports Neurology Center at the Berman Brain & Spine Institute at LifeBridge Health in Baltimore. Vacuuming, dusting, and sweeping can help you sweat and boost your heart rate. “When your heart rate goes up, more blood flows to your heart and, in turn, your brain,” he says. “Once your doctor gives you the go-ahead, it's a win-win.”