A prescription for the winter blues

Has the Polar Vortex left your workout routine in a deep freeze? Frigid temperatures provide a nice excuse for hibernating on the couch, cozy in your Batman Snuggie and watching re-runs of Friends.

But that warm and fuzzy feeling may dissipate when your waist begins to take the circumference of a snowman. What happened to the days when our grandparents walked ten miles uphill in three feet of snow? Nowadays there is a colorful array of excuses and diagnoses to label supposed ailments of the lazy and sedentary that did not exist in past generations.

After some research, I was astonished that exercise was not on the long list of prescribed medicines for such ailments. Rather, our population favors unnecessary expenses such as hormone replacements and heat lap therapies.

There is no question that exercise is preventative medicine. So if the winter blues are keeping you from reaching your fitness goals, here are some in-home activities that will elevate your heart rate and give you that energy boost we all need during the long winter months – no co-pay required.

Step it up. While the elevator is a nice option from time-to-time, we should all consider taking the stairs instead. For those living in a bi-level home, there are zero excuses! Stairs are an excellent tool for increasing your heart rate, which ultimately leads to calorie burning. Further, this activity targets our largest muscles (hamstrings, quads and glutes) which results in a higher calorie loss.

The key here is high reps and to keep that core activated to stabilize your back and abdomen. Progressions for this exercise include: skipping every other step, adding weights, running up or incorporating high knees. Please do not attempt this while wearing socks or slippers! This is exercise, not a pajama party.

Doing Diddly Squats. If your brain can tolerate The Bachelor for two hours, then by all means stimulate your body by throwing a few squats into the mix. Again, we are activating our lower extremities, which results in a higher calorie burn. Play a game with your exercise to make it fun. For example, every time they show a rose on the Bachelor, do twenty-five seat squats. What is a seat squat you ask? You simply stand up from your seat and sit back down. Remember to keep those abs engaged and step up from your heels to activate the glute muscles. Pay close attention to your weight shift when you stand, as many people tend to put the pressure on the balls of their feet, which creates a devastating shear force on those knees.

Not a Juan Pablo fan? This mindless, yet beneficial routine can be implemented into any television regimen. For example, for every commercial break do twenty five squats, and progress by doing the squat without the seat as support.

One Man Army. Wall pushups and triceps dips are excellent for targeting the back, arms, chest and triceps muscles. Resistance bands are extremely effective in working the upper body. Find a stable piece of furniture or a bed post, and simply wrap the band around the leg or exposed support beam. Can’t find anything to hold the weight? Simply use your foot to hold the band in place. Some sample exercises to perform are: bicep curls, overhead extensions and the chest press. The internet offers an immense database of exercises available with resistance bands. Note: Prior to performing bi-lateral arm exercises, align the band so it is even on both sides and always engage your core.

Give Thanks for Planks. If long days in front of the computer have your posture resembling that of Quasimodo, perhaps it is time to incorporate planks into your routine. This challenging and highly effective isometric exercise strengthens the core stabilizer muscles, and is extremely convenient because it requires no exercise equipment—just you!

Simply lie face down on the floor, resting your upper body weight on your forearms. It is important to align your shoulders directly over your elbows. Once your upper body is adjusted, extend your legs as if assuming a pushup position. The key to this exercise is to keep your back flat and engage your core. Hold this position for thirty seconds and progress by adding time onto your plank. Test your limits—if your body isn’t trembling by the end of your plank session, then you aren’t doing it long enough.

Physical fitness does not have to occur within the confines of a gym. Your body has the ability to naturally treat the winter blues with happy hormones such as Serotonin, Dopamine and Endorphins. These chemicals not only enhance your spirits, but also aid in restful sleep, control appetite and cause a feeling of exhilaration. With any relationship in life, you need a little chemistry, and the connection between your mind and body is no different. So thaw those freezer burnt muscles and get to work! If another day pent up in your home has you feeling like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, then activate that powerful chemical trio with a little exercise. Here’s Johnny!

Earn it.

Ashley Greenblatt is a certified personal trainer, wellness coach and aspiring journalist living in Voorhees, N.J.

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