9 Ways to Stay Motivated to Work Out When It's Cold, Dark and Miserable

Embrace the elements and enjoy an outdoor workout this winter.
Image Credit: tomazl/E+/GettyImages

When the weather outside is frightful, you just want to be inside next to that oh-so-delightful fire. The colder and darker the days get, the less and less you feel like doing anything, especially exercising.

After all, the winter brings on a decline in vitamin D and serotonin levels — not to mention an increase in levels of sleep-inducing melatonin — that can make even lacing up your workout shoes feel like a workout, Barbara Walker, Ph.D., a sports psychologist with the Center for Human Performance in Cincinnati, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

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Put these nine tips into practice, though, and winter weather is less likely to stand between you and your workout.

1. Put the Thermostat on a Timer

Trying to get out of your warm, cozy bed on a cold day is extremely difficult. Ease the discomfort — and reduce the temptation to snooze through your morning sweat session — by setting your thermostat so that your house starts warming up about an hour before you need to wake up, recommends personal trainer Lisa Niren, CPT, an instructor at CycleBar and CITYROW in New York City.

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While, according to the National Sleep Foundation, bedroom temps of 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal when you're asleep, higher temps (or a warmed home) can promote wakefulness and help you get out of bed in the morning.

2. Get Outside

Regularly spending time in nature — no matter the season — is vital to keeping your energy levels up and maintaining the right mindset to stick with your workouts, Niren says. Yes, even if that means snot-cicles form in your nostrils.

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In fact, a December 2014 study published in ​The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism​ found people have more genetic markers for brown fat in the winter, which could mean a higher calorie burn. Just make sure you have the right clothing (lots of layers) and gear to keep you safe and warm, whatever the weather.

3. Try Something New

"Think of winter as a chance to take a break from your regular workout and keep things interesting," Walker says. "For example, if you usually run, this is a great time to strength train."

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And take advantage of things you can only do during the winter like snowboarding, skiing and snowshoeing. After all, switching up your workout routine every six to eight weeks can help prevent plateaus and boredom, Walker says.

4. Hit the Lights

If you have trouble making your early-morning workouts because it still looks like the middle of the night outside, 'tis the season to gift yourself a light-emitting alarm clock, Niren says. These clocks gradually increase the amount of light in your bedroom over the course of 30 minutes before sounding.

That way, when it's actually time to wake up, you've already basked in wakefulness-promoting, short-wavelength (aka blue) light, she says. In one ​International Journal of Endocrinology​ study from July 2012, subjects who woke up to bright, short-wavelength light exhibited hormone levels that were significantly more conducive to getting up and at 'em.

5. Kick the Low-Carb Diet

During the winter, levels of mood-boosting serotonin can drop along with the daylight, partially explaining the winter blues and seasonal affective disorder that stand between many exercisers and their fitness habits, Los Angeles-based trainer Holly Perkins, CSCS, author of Lift to Get Lean, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

"Luckily, you can definitely hack your serotonin levels nutritionally," she says. Carbohydrate intake can promote healthy serotonin levels, while insufficient carbohydrate intake has been linked to depressive symptoms like fatigue, she explains. Perkins recommends turning to carbs like oats, sweet potatoes, brown rice and fruits for your serotonin boost. Bonus: They'll help fuel your workouts for better results.

6. Sign Up for a Competition

Whether you register for a virtual race or powerlifting meet, having a goal (and a deadline) will help keep you motivated and looking ahead with your workouts, Niren says. Specific goals — like completing a St. Patty's race on March 17 — are much more motivating than vague ones without deadlines.

Opt to train for an event at which you feel reasonably capable. Confidence in your ability is the most accurate predictor of how hard and often you work out, according to a December 2013 review published in the ​Journal of Sports and Exercise Psychology​.

7. Post a Pic on Your Fridge

According February 2015 research published in the journal ​Memory​, simply recalling an awesome workout experience can significantly boost your motivation to hit the gym today.

Try posting a picture of yourself from a past fun run or even a gym selfie (like the one you took after mastering your first pull-up!) to your refrigerator, recommends Kansas City-based exercise physiologist Greg Justice, CPT, author of Mind Over Fatter. It'll help keep you tuned in to how fun fitness can be.

8. Watch Some Reruns

It might sound silly, but if you find yourself trapped on the "dreadmill" this winter, tuning in to some of your favorite reruns can help boost your workout willpower, according to an August 2012 study published in ​Social Psychological and Personality Science​. Researchers believe that your favorite fictional characters serve as surrogate workout buddies. That's good news if your friends don't share your enthusiasm for sweating it out this winter.

9. Identify Your True 'Why'

All of the motivation tricks in the world won't get you to the gym season after season if you haven't figured out your deep-down reason for being active, says Perkins. "You have to be 100 percent connected to your 'why,'" she says.

Think through the most meaningful reason (or reasons) you want to be consistent with your workouts over the winter — and then write them down. Keep your reasons displayed on your nightstand or snap a photo of them to use as your phone background, she says.

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