YMCA 50th birthday on Kennedy Drive (copy)

Members play basketball on the gym floor of the Kankakee Area YMCA in Kankakee. 

For many of us, winter presents a paradox. Once the long, dark nights settle in, it can be a struggle to leave the warmth of your bed, let alone work out.

These colder months can pose many challenges to exercising, whether it be finding the time in a busy season, dealing with outdoor conditions or managing weather-induced or seasonal body changes.

Yet, exercise can help boost energy levels, calm the mind and preserve your health to make winter more bearable. We avoid doing the thing that could help for fear it will make us even more tired, stressed and sore.

If you are looking to propel yourself out of the slump this winter, start by checking in with your mind and body, then try finding a community or activity that fires you up.

Beat the winter blues

It’s common to feel burned out toward the end of the year, when the whole year’s work accumulates and might be evaluated. Additionally, about 5 percent of the U.S. population experiences seasonal affective disorder or SAD, biologic and mood disturbances that most commonly occur in places with less sunlight at certain times of the year, and about 15 percent experience milder seasonal mood changes.

Your body might protest the change of season, too.

“It’s a per-person basis, but a lot of people have chronic illness or rheumatoid arthritis, different things that can affect their body, and when the weather changes, it for sure makes it harder for people to get up and get moving or even find the motivation to do that,” said Samantha Gorman, franchisee of two Fitness Premier locations in Monee and Crete.

When people exercise, they not only keep up their strength and endurance but develop a healthier outlook, according to Cyndi Hunt, healthy living director at Kankakee Area YMCA.

“I think you sleep better, which always sets people up for eating better and exercising more,” she said. “Also when you exercise you relieve stress, so that helps your endorphins, but people also have a general better body composition, and they feel better about themselves when they are active and moving.”

Some gyms, including Fitness Premier, offer virtual fitness options for when people feel as though it’s too much of a hassle to leave home. Even five to 10 minutes of activity can help lift your mood, according to Gorman.

“It does make you feel a little bit happier,” she said. “If not happier, it makes you feel a little bit calmer, more in control.”

Join a team

Playing intramural sports is one way to warm yourself up to winter fitness through socializing, competing and working with others.

Both the Kankakee Area YMCA and Kankakee Valley Park District run adult volleyball and pickleball programs during the winter, as well as fitness and wellness classes and other programs.

“Some of the benefits of the intramurals I’ve seen is that families between different generations are able to share this common experience with their parents and grandchildren, their siblings as they watch or participate,” Hunt said. “It also helps them have a sense of community.”

KVPD superintendent of recreation Kyle Burton said its volleyball program expanded in the past two years and now maxes out participation with each cycle.

“We definitely do have people who come back year to year to play with us. And it’s always good to hear their feedback,” he said.

Pickleball, a growing sport that combines aspects of badminton, tennis and ping pong, is a great way for seniors to exercise for two hours at a time, according to Mike Curren, sports director at the Kankakee Area YMCA.

“They don’t even realize they’re in there because they’re having fun; they’re with their friends, they’re communicating, they’re exercising,” Curren said.

Club sports are offered for different age groups, work out multiple parts of the body and can be performed at desired intensity.

“We have a recreational division, so for people who are kind of playing for fun or maybe they’re not as skilled at volleyball. And then we have a competitive league for people who are looking for more competition and maybe have been playing for a few years,” Burton said, noting some players participate in both divisions.

The Y’s youth programs are instructional-based and designed to be inclusive and informative, Curren added.

Stay motivated and overcome the holiday hurdles

Scheduling your workouts and committing to them can help you prioritize, Gorman said, whether it’s group or individual exercise. You actually can write them on a calendar or communicate regularly with a friend or someone who can serve as an accountability partner.

Winter, especially the holiday season, can present a lot of distractions, and it’s OK to indulge in them. However, it’s important to assess how you actually are feeling, Gorman said.

“We really focus on what we can do for others during this time,” she said. “And I think that it’s really important that people prioritize their own mental health and make sure that they are committing to doing something that makes them feel good inside, too.”

This article first appeared in Lifestyles of Kankakee County.

Digital Content Editor

Meredith Melland earned a BA in journalism from DePaul University, where she worked as a web developer and editor for 14 East, DePaul's online student magazine. She has interned for Chicago magazine and WGN. Her email is mmelland@daily-journal.com.