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Have fun keeping active this winter!

Tags: exercise , fitness

Have fun keeping active this winterOnce winter sets in, it's tempting to toss the trainers in a cupboard and hibernate til spring. But as well as keeping you healthy, exercising on colder days can be invigorating and fun, says fitness coach Lucy Wyndham-Read.

The results of our latest poll confirm that the majority of us experience a dip in the amount of exercise we take once the colder months arrive. But although winter might not seem like the most appealing time to get fit, it's important for our health that we resist the urge to spend weeks huddled in front of the fire watching TV.

The health benefits of regular physical activity are well established, including increased energy, lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol and body fat, and improved muscle tone. Exercising also boosts your immune system and helps you fight off winter flu and cold bugs.

Feel good, look good!

Because exercise improves your blood circulation and generates heat, a short bout of activity when it's chilly helps keep you warm. Your skin will benefit too from being out in the fresh air, instead of trapped inside with the central heating on. Plus, you'll burn off some of those extra calories you consume through eating comfort foods!

The shorter days and lack of sunlight during the winter months can contribute to that low feeling we know as the winter blues. When you exercise, however, you stimulate the release of feel-good chemicals that give your mood a natural lift. Physical activity is also a great way to release stress. See our accompanying feature this month for more tips on coping with stress - Tackling stress through positive changes. 

Outdoor winter workouts

If you find it hard to motivate yourself to exercise when the temperature plummets, remember that you don't have to do all your daily exercise in one go: everyday tasks and chores like taking the dog for a walk, cycling to the shops or raking up the leaves in the garden will get you out of doors and physically active in short bursts.

You could also consider taking advantage of the cheaper low-season rates in hotels and B&Bs to treat yourself to a weekend away somewhere with sports and leisure facilities or just attractive scenery for brisk country walks.

If you choose a sport or activity that you really enjoy, you're much more likely to stick with it whatever the weather outside. Here are some suggestions for outdoor winter sports that really get you moving and having fun.

Skiing
An obvious exercise that we associate with winter. It's a great low-impact exercise that requires good lower body stamina and endurance. If you are jetting off to the slopes for the first time, you can prepare yourself by building your lower body strength through walking. If there are hills nearby, combine walking with doing some squats and lunges.

Ice skating
Another sport that we associate with the winter months. There are two forms: figure skating, which involves choreographed dance moves and works on your balance, strength, posture and flexibility; and speed skating, an aerobic exercise that works the power and stamina of your lower body, as well as your arms and abdominals. Alternatively, you could just have a fun day out and a gentle workout with family or friends at the local ice rink.

Snow boarding
A fun exercise that will not only tone and strengthen deep into your lower body muscles, but will give you a great abdominal workout for fab abs! Snow boarding works deep into your core muscles, which help to tone and trim your waist.

Nordic walking
Another great way of keeping fit and lean through the winter, and is one of the most calorific-burning exercises you can do: it burns up to 46 per cent more calories than walking without poles, according to British Nordic Walking.
The exercise uses a technique similar to the upper body action of cross-country skiing. The Nordic walking poles encourage you to work out through your body's fullest range of motion, so it's great for toning through your hips, bottom, thighs, abs, waist, arms and chest. It's also a low-impact physical activity and suits everyone from a complete beginner to an advanced exerciser. 

Indoor winter workouts

You don't have to be outdoors all the time to stay fit and active in winter. If you have a friend or family member who's up for the challenge, fixing a regular time to play a competitive indoor game or sport will keep you both more motivated to turn up.

And there's no excuse for lethargy among those determined to stay put indoors - Nintendo's Wii Fit console will bring the winter sports and exercises to you!

Squash
This racquet sport is one of the fastest games you can play, so you need to be reasonably fit to participate. This very fast, stop-start game will give you a challenging workout aerobically. It's a great sport to do to increase your fitness and speed and as a way of relieving stress. A 30-minute game of squash will boost your heart and lungs, develop strength in your lower body, and improve your hand and eye co-ordination.

Badminton
If you're a keen tennis player in summer, then consider switching to an indoors racquet sport in winter. Badminton is a fun way of exercising without feeling you're working at it. It's a fast game that requires several different components of fitness: balance, flexibility, eye/ball co-ordination, endurance and speed. Playing badminton for 30 minutes will give you a great workout and re-energise you for the rest of the day.

Dancing
A great way to work out that helps increase your strength and flexibility. There are now so many different forms of dance classes available, from salsa to belly dancing. It also helps build your self-esteem by learning new skills and dancing with other people.

Wii Fit Winter Sports
If you're not jetting off to snowy mountains, then how about bringing winter sports into your front room with the Wii Fit Winter Sports 2009? This game has a balance board with a choice of 18 different winter sports, which will work your balance, endurance and co-ordination. So now you can ski the black runs in your front room! 

Further information about winter sports

Badminton England
www.badmintonengland.co.uk

British Dance Council
www.bdconline.org


British Nordic Walking
www.britishnordicwalking.org.uk

Change4Life
www.nhs.uk/change4life/

English Federation of Disability Sport
www.efds.co.uk

England Squash and Racketball
www.englandsquashandracketball.com

National Ice Skating Association
www.iceskating.org.uk

Snowsport England
www.snowsportengland.org.uk

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