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Make exercise a winter priority

When deciding whether to exercise during the doldrums of winter, the two most difficult steps are usually the first two out the door. However, a winter workout can provide a much-needed boost - physically and mentally.

Don't let the cold prevent you from leaving your house and getting in shape, says Nicole Briggs, a fitness trainer at the William G. Rohrer Center in Voorhees.

"You need to make the commitment to exercise and get moving," she says. "In addition to keeping you in physical shape, exercise can help control your blood pressure and alleviate stress that can build up during the hectic holiday season."

Here are some helpful tips to follow during your winter workouts:

Keep track of the weather forecast
If it's raining, snowing or icy, it's best to stay inside. But that's no excuse to hibernate. Create a full-body, weight-resistant training routine at home that includes squats, lunges, push-ups, marches and crunches. If you like to run or jog, try using the stairs in your house.

Bundle up in layers
Dress in layers for an outdoor workout to help you stay insulated. You can remove layers of clothing as your body temperature rises. Your first layer should be something that is thin and sweat-resistant. You can add another layer that is wool or fleece to keep you comfortable. Top it off with a light jacket. As you get warm, you can simply remove the jacket and continue with your exercise.

"Don't forget to cover your extremities such as your head, ears, feet and hands, which are more prone to frost bite," cautions Briggs.

Warm up before working out
Cold temperatures can make your muscles tight and prone to strains and sprains. It's important to get your muscles warmed-up prior to engaging in any physical activity. Some warm-up exercises include stretching, jumping jacks, squats, walking, jogging and jumping rope.

Start against the wind
Running into a stiff wind can be a major obstacle because it makes you exert more energy. Briggs suggests beginning the first half of a walk, jog or run by going against the wind when your energy levels are at their highest. During the second half - and most difficult part of the activity - go with the wind.

"Also, you don't want to be heavily sweating during the last part of your jog and have to run into an icy wind," says Briggs.

Stay hydrated
Even though it's cold outside, you will sweat and need to replenish fluids. If you're not properly hydrated, it can cause your heart to work harder, and it can decrease your energy levels, making you feel weaker. So be sure to drink just as much water as you do during the summer.

Join a gym
If exercising outside isn't an option or the thought of going into the cold has you shaking in your boots, join a gym. In addition to the temperature being just right inside, you can participate in classes, work out with others, get fitness tips from certified instructors and have access to an array of cardiovascular and weight-training equipment.

So don't let ol' man winter scare you from exercising and enhancing your overall health and wellness this winter.

Become a member of Virtua's Center for HealthFitness
Virtua now offers three state-of-the-art fitness centers - in Voorhees, Washington Township and Moorestown. Each provides a wide selection of premier equipment, resources and specialized programs to help you accomplish your total fitness, health and wellness needs. Virtua's Centers for HealthFitness differentiate from other gyms by approaching health and wellness from a medically integrated perspective.

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