How to stay motivated to work out during the winter, according to exercise psychologists

Even the most dedicated exercise enthusiast can have a hard time in winter.

Cold days and long nights make it hard to get out of bed, let alone get the body moving, but there are simple ways to get motivated when the weather outside is frightful.

The season can indeed be very disruptive to people's exercise routines, said Jack Raglin, an exercise psychologist and professor at Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington.

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"You can look at large-scale studies and you see this sort of wave effect where physical activity levels start to decrease as temperature goes down," Raglin told TODAY.

"Light is also a factor," he added. "If people live in an area where they come home and it's already dark, that can be a physical barrier to exercise and a de-motivation."

The goal is to remove as many obstacles as possible and make small changes that can make staying active easier until spring returns. At this time of year, exercise can also help to cope with seasonal depression.

Here are eight tips on how to motivate yourself to stay active in the winter:

1. Enlist the thermostat in your cause.

If the schedule calls for early workouts, program the thermostat in the morning to ensure a cozy atmosphere for waking up and place workout clothes near a heater so they're "nice and warm," suggested Lauren Rosella, a personal trainer at UNC REX Healthcare in Raleigh, North Carolina.

2. Exercise during your lunch break.

Many people get frustrated when it's dark in the morning and dark after their workday. The solution is to work out in the middle of the day, during the peak light hours.

If the weather is tolerable, take a long, brisk walk during lunch hour — this provides the added benefit of fresh air and a bit of nature. If there's too much snow in the way, head to a nearby mall or shopping center for an indoor stroll.

3. Focus on the mental health benefits.

Many people who start exercising get frustrated when they don't lose weight or feel fit right away. But those benefits take a while to show up, Raglin noted.

The mental health benefits, on the other hand, happen almost immediately. People feel better, less stressed and more relaxed, which may be especially important during the hectic holiday season and a time when many suffer from seasonal affective disorder.

"Feel good about feeling good," he said, "and feel good about doing something for yourself that we know has so many benefits that so many people need."

4. Plan ahead and anticipate.

For outdoor workouts, watch the weather forecast and know what you'll be up against the next day, whether snow or a cold blast, Raglin advised. Plan the appropriate clothing by stocking up on some workout clothes for winter and have everything ready when for wake-up time: Gear, gym bag and snack.

"It's like you're being helped along, so to speak. That can make a big difference," he said. "If you know what you're going to have to experience or endure, it doesn't bother you as much."

5. Put on exercise clothes after work.

This simple goal puts people on the right path without much effort, said Brandon Alderman, an exercise psychologist and associate professor in the department of kinesiology and health at Rutgers University.

"The idea behind doing that is you've met your goal and it's probably difficult to take those exercise clothes off without actually doing some form of exercise," he said.

6. Sleep in exercise clothes.

This is a more intense variation of the goal above. The advantage is being ready to go right out of bed in clothes that are warm and already in place. On the other hand, the ritual of getting into exercise clothes can be energizing, Raglin said.

"Once you start gearing up, you're getting your head in the game," he said. "It's like a pre-game ritual. It's almost like my heart starts beating faster once I begin to do that."

7. Optimize the morning alarm.

Choose a song that will get out of bed and get the heart beating faster. That's when the race begins, so don't hit the snooze button, Raglin cautioned.

"If you're giving yourself a couple of options to snooze, you're done a lot of the time," he noted, especially when your options are work out in the cold or stay warm and cozy in bed.

8. Reconsider starting an outdoor exercise program as a New Year's resolution.

"Winter is really a bad time to do it," Raglin said. "But unfortunately, a lot of people start January 1. It's just a penalty on top of a penalty."

"People have been overindulging, they feel guilty, they feel like they have to do it and then they're starting at a time when the environment is kind of conspiring against them."

It's better to start with baby steps and start somewhere warm.

The article "Exercise Tips to Keep You Motivated as the Weather Gets Colder" originally published on TODAY.

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