Happy New Year, everyone. Despite my excitement over welcoming a new decade, I’m not gonna lie…I was pretty disappointed that we didn’t get a particularly wintry Christmas. Now, don’t get me wrong. When it does get cold, I do more than my fair share of complaining about the winter weather. But if there was ever a time for snow, it would be Christmas and New Year’s!Yes, we're enjoying a warmer-than-average few weeks, but remember: the cold will be here soon. Will you be ready?

Of course, the warmer vacation weather came with a lot of bonuses. Since temperatures are taking an unexpected turn for the better, I know that many of you are taking full advantage of the stable thermometer, heading outside for runs and walk. Obviously, I think this is great: it really is nice to have the option to get active while also enjoying some fresh air. It does, however, make me nervous for the months ahead. 

I mean, come on now, this is Chicago…winter IS coming! That one week of below-freezing temps, and that measly Halloween snow can NOT have been all that we will see this season. So, I’m all for soaking up the good weather now, but I’m scared about how long winter will last once it finally shows up. Do we need to be prepared for snow in April and May? I sure hope not. But it’s certainly a possibility.

Which leads me to another silver lining in all this unseasonal warmth: we have more time to come up with a game plan. Are you an outdoor runner like me, but, with all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, you still haven't made a plan for how you’ll stay active in the winter? Well, apparently, you still have time. And if you need some helpful tips, just keeping reading for some of my winter-weather workout recommendations.

Getting Your Sweat On When the Temperatures Drop

I know you may hate the idea of indoor workouts. I’ll admit, I don’t love it. But as I recently revealed, when you don’t show some flexibility in your exercise routine, you may end up gaining weight when running outdoors becomes a non-starter. And any amount of weight gain puts extra pressure on your feet. I know it certainly didn’t help me when I recently dealt with a bout of heel pain due to plantar fasciitis.

Even if you plan to stick to your outdoor runs all winter (see here for safe ways to run in icy weather), there will totally be days when you can’t or won’t waWinter is a great time to embrace alternative cardio optionsnt to be on the roads. So, you need a backup plan. And, the good news is, there are so many great options!

You can always get a month-to-month membership at your local gym or rec center. Not only will this allow you to get on the treadmill when you can’t train outside, it will open you up to a world of cross-training options: hello, elliptical! Nice to meet you, stationary bike. Long time no see, dumbbells. 

I know that many runners are resistant to trying any other forms of exercise, but cross training is crucial to your health. When running is your only form of exercise, you put a ton of stress on your knees and feet. And that stress hits in the exact same spots, potentially leading to overuse injuries like shin splints. If, however, you build up strength in other areas of your body, and give those running muscles a few days between sessions to recover, you’re far less likely to get hurt and sidelined.

Maybe the gym isn’t your scene: I get it. A bunch of cardio machines can be intimidating, and a solo workout that takes you nowhere is, I’ll admit, sometimes boring. Never fear: I’ve got you covered! Why not sign up for an exercise class that meets once or twice a week, something that’s social and sweat-inducing, the perfect combination. Or why not switch it up entirely? Find an indoor pool near you that has open hours which fit into your schedule. Water-based exercises are incredible, especially for runners: they help you maintain your fitness levels in a zero-impact environment. That’s one easy way to take the pressure off your feet.

Whatever suits you, the main point is to come up with a plan, now, so that you don’t skip a beat when the weather drops. You’ll simply slip straight into your new winter workout program, and ensure that your feet (and waistline) stay healthy all through 2020, not just when it’s warm out.

Final Thoughts on Outdoor Workouts

Having just walked you through the importance of moving your exercise indoors this winter, I have to mention: getting outside when you can will still be important. Even if you’ve joined a gym or are hitting the pool on a regular basis. Because, here’s the deal: when you do get outside, you can help stave off the typical mid-west vitamin D drop that almost all of us experience in the coldest months around here.

So, why do we care about Vitamin D? Vitamin D, which our body synthesizes with sunlight-exposure, is essential for maintaining our body’s bone strength. If your vitamin D levels drop, you’re far more likely to experience bone and muscle pain. Your risk of fractures will also increase. Get that vitamin D to strengthen your bones and reduce your risk of foot fractures!

Now runners, pay attention: vitamin D deficiencies can really hit your feet and ankles hard: you’ll be much more likely to get stress fractures, especially in your feet’s delicate metatarsal bones. Of course, I just finished telling you about how you’re not going to be getting outside much in the next few months. If that’s the case, how can you get that vitamin D?

Unfortunately, you can’t find it in too many food sources, so you may want to consider supplementing, especially in the winter. If you do choose to supplement, take your vitamin D with food and calcium. That will help your body with absorption. And, once your Vitamin D levels rise, not only will your risk of fractures decrease, but you’ll also enjoy several other health benefits. Other vitamin D benefits include:

  • Healthier bones and teeth
  • Regulating insulin levels
  • Supporting your cardiovascular and lung health

That all sounds pretty good, right? If you’re concerned about your vitamin D levels, you should certainly talk to your health care provider. A simple blood test can determine whether you’re deficient.

Make 2020 Your Healthiest Year Yet!

So, now that we’ve talked about all the potential pitfalls winter may bring to your health (when it finally arrives) let’s review your stay-well game plan:

  1. Come up with exercise options that work in any kind of weather. Make a commitment now (purchase a membership or class pass) so that you’ll feel more accountable if you skip out on going.
  2. Get outside whenever you can, to help naturally boost your vitamin D levels.
  3. Get screened for vitamin D deficiency, and talk to your healthcare provider about supplementing in order to support your bone health.
  4. And, p.s., don’t be a stranger…if your feet are hurting, come in and see me as soon as you notice a problem. Even if it’s really cold outside!
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