Exercise in cooler months

We hear why BASA advocates that a healthy body is made through consistency and why exercise is imperative in cooler months.

It’s so easy to get active and exercise when the sun is shining and the sky is blue. But what happens when the winter months start to roll in, temperatures start to drop, and the sky becomes dark and grey? Even the most dedicated of fitness enthusiasts can struggle to get out of bed in winter, let alone get moving.

Winter can be very disruptive to our regular exercise routines. Typically, as temperatures start to decrease, so does physical activity. Light levels are also a contributing factor. With the sun rising later and setting earlier, our days become shorter, and so does the perceived window period for physical activity. Many people find the dark to be demotivating and a barrier to physical activity participation.

Why to keep moving in winter

Despite these difficulties experienced during winter, movement and physical activity remain a central and essential component in the management and prevention of diabetes.

There is an abundance of research which demonstrates that regular physical activity improves blood glucose, decreases cardiovascular risk factors and reduces reliance of chronic medication in individuals with diabetes.1,2

Additional benefits include improved cardiovascular fitness, improved blood pressure, improved cholesterol and triglyceride levels, decreased abdominal fat, improved body mass index (BMI) and enhanced well-being.

During winter, the benefits of physical activity for people with diabetes don’t change. However, there are some additional reasons that you might benefit from getting active in the cooler months.

  • Increased Core Body Temperature

With physical activity, we typically observe an increase in both muscle and core temperature. This is because not all of the energy produced in our muscles is used for muscular contraction, and the remainder of the energy is converted to heat energy which increases the muscle temperature and eventually core body temperature.3 The greater the exercise intensity, the greater the heat production. Essentially, exercise of sufficient intensity will help you become your own human heater during winter.

  • Reduced depression and anxiety

Although the exact mechanisms are complex and multifactorial, there is ubiquitous agreement in scientific communities that exercise is beneficial for the treatment and management of symptoms of depression and anxiety.4

Physical activity leads to the release of endorphins or ‘feel good chemicals’, such as serotonin and dopamine. These endorphins help to better regulate mood and promote feelings of well-being, whilst reducing feelings of depression and anxiety. Exercise can therefore help you to beat the winter blues and protect against Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

  • Preventing winter weight gain

During the cooler winter months, the average person tends to eat more and do less. With this human hibernation, comes the dreaded winter weight gain. Exercise helps to boost your metabolism and increase the number of calories you burn each day, which allows you to better maintain your weight and help you avoid packing on the pounds.

With the above benefits of exercise, the goal during winter should be to reduce the number of barriers to physical activity and commit to small, sustainable changes that make staying active easier until the return of the warmer months.

Five tips to help keep you active in the cold

  1. Create a support structure

Create a support structure that will encourage you and help you remain focused on your goals. It’s much easier to stick to a habit if you have someone to keep you accountable to your goals. Get active with a friend or family member or sign up for regular exercise sessions with a healthcare professional, such as a biokineticist.

  1. Get active in your lunch breaks

Does going to the gym or for a walk before work in the pitch-dark sounds like a nightmare to you? Try to squeeze in some activity into your lunch breaks whilst it’s still light outside. Try a brisk walk around the block if the weather is tolerable, or, if you’re lucky to have a gym close by or at the office, try to fit in a quick 30-minute workout.

Here is a great balance and mobility exercise to try, which we have called the #teatimetactic challenge. Here is the explainer video on YouTube:

Challenge yourself and nominate others. Practice it, film it, upload it to social media and tag others you would like to nominate to take up the challenge and include hashtags #TeaTimeTactic and #biokineticssa!

  1. Try hydrotherapy

If exercise in the cold is something you’re just not willing to subject yourself to, hydrotherapy in a heated pool is a great option. Hydrotherapy has many benefits, including improved circulation, reduced pressure on joints, reduced joint and muscle pain, muscle relaxation, improved muscle strength, improved joint range of motion and improved balance. Not only will you be warm, but you will reap all these other benefits too.

  1. Invest in new gym wear

Nothing motivates people like some new active wear. Putting on gym gear is not unlike putting on a uniform, or an actor putting on a costume. By putting these specific clothes on, you remind yourself of the specific task or job you have to perform, and you become more psychologically ready for the task at hand. Invest in some warmer gym clothing, not only to help keep you warmer during your workouts, but to help motivate you to get active.

  1. Try new indoor activities

If you regularly exercise outdoors but can’t bring yourself to go for your usual morning walk in winter, it may be time to try some new indoor activities. This doesn’t necessarily require you to take out a gym membership. With the global COVID-19 pandemic, there are now many options available online to help get you moving within the very comforts of your own (warm) home.

A healthy body is made through consistency

There is a saying that goes “summer bodies are made in the winter”. But we like to think that a healthy body is made through consistency, which means putting in the work every day, regardless of the weather outside.

Biokineticists are registered healthcare practitioners that treat injury and disease through individualised, evidence-based exercise prescription. They are specifically educated to prescribe and supervise exercise to individuals for the management and prevention of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes. To find out more about biokinetics, or to find a biokineticist near you, visit https://www.biokineticssa.org.za


  1. Gill, Jason MR, and Dalia Malkova. “Physical activity, fitness and cardiovascular disease risk in adults: interactions with insulin resistance and obesity.” Clinical science 110.4 (2006): 409-425.
  2. Way, Kimberley L., et al. “The effect of regular exercise on insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Diabetes & metabolism journal 40.4 (2016): 253-271.
  3. Takeda, R., & Okazaki, K. (2018). Body Temperature Regulation During Exercise and Hyperthermia in Diabetics. In (Ed.), Diabetes and Its Complications. IntechOpen. https://doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.74063
  4. Drew, E. M., Hanson, B. L., & Huo, K. (2021). Seasonal affective disorder and engagement in physical activities among adults in Alaska. International journal of circumpolar health80(1), 1906058. https://doi.org/10.1080/22423982.2021.1906058

To find out more about biokinetics and to find a biokineticist near you, visit biokineticssa.org.za

Written by Tayla Ross (Registered Biokineticist, MPhil Biokinetics) on behalf of The Biokinetics Association of South Africa.

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