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Staying active in the winter with muscle-strengthening activity

Note: This post is written by the team of The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) at Penn State College of Medicine as part of a first-person blog about their work. Learn more about the group here.

Muscle-strengthening activity, commonly known as resistance exercise training, lifting weights or strength training, is a fantastic activity to kickstart a winter routine and get ahead of schedule on potential New Year’s resolutions. Muscle-strengthening activity improves strength and function and can even help anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Those living with and beyond cancer should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (such as walking, jogging or cycling) per week, and twice-weekly muscle-strengthening activity. If that sounds like a lot, the guidelines also say that doing even a little bit more activity than what you’re currently doing is great.

It can be particularly challenging to remain physically active when external factors, such as poor weather, pandemic-related gym closures, limited daylight or icy sidewalks disrupt routine. The best advice is to find activities indoors or outdoors that are enjoyable, achievable and something that the exerciser can stick with long-term.

We have put together some ideas of how you can stay active with resistance exercise training this winter, indoors or out.

  • If you have access to equipment such as dumbbells, kettlebells or strength-training machines, they are wonderful tools for muscle-strengthening activity. However, muscle-strengthening activity can be done at home with minimal to no equipment whatsoever. These videos created by our lab show exercises that can be done at home any time.
  • A lot of people tend to sit for long periods of time during the day. It’s easy to do! But it’s not the healthiest choice. Taking breaks from sitting can be really helpful, and getting up to do a few minutes of muscle-strengthening exercises is a great way to break up sitting time. Pick two days this week, and complete one or two of these exercises at a natural break-point in the day. They only take about a minute each! The next week, add another exercise or two to that routine. By the end of the day, you will have met guidelines for muscle-strengthening activity without setting too much of your time aside.
  • There’s also nothing wrong with venturing outside and doing some muscule-strengthening activity in snowy conditions. Just be sure to wear appropriate footwear and warm clothing, stay hydrated, and, if necessary, wear high-visibility clothing. Festive winter activities such as building a snowman, throwing snowballs and making snow angels are all very physically active, and fun, options.

Don’t wait to start a new year’s resolution; enjoy this upcoming winter season by increasing your muscle-strengthening activity. Finally, if you are finding it hard to deal with the change in seasons, and your mood is poor, please see your doctor, as they can provide you with the help you need.

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