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By Professor Greg Whyte, ukactive board member and former Olympian

It’s that time of year again, the clocks changed on Sunday and the days are getting noticeably shorter. And this year there is no hiding that this comes with a double whammy of increased anxiety around COVID-19, further restrictions across much of the UK and growing concern for what the winter may bring.

Even in a ‘normal year’, during the winter months 1 in 3 people in the UK are affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which can cause low mood, feelings of depression and reduced energy levels. For everyone, changing the clocks can bring different levels of changes to mood but this can be offset by exercise and physical activity. I’ve said it before but exercise really is a wonder drug. For anyone looking to boost their mood and productivity or generally support their mental health through this period here are some tips to support you through this seasonal change.

Get outside

Exercising outdoors can provide the all-important exposure to natural light which is crucial in reducing symptoms of SAD and improving quality of life (you also get the added bonus of a Vitamin D fix which can boost your immune system). Because of the changing weather and the seasons, the great outdoors provides a constantly changing environment and gives the flexibility to change your routine and create new exercise experiences. The one constant message we received when we first went into lockdown was that exercising everyday was a good thing and was one of the approved reasons to leave home. As we head into the winter months make this message front and centre to your routine.

Avoid the dark and head to a gym

For some, getting outdoors to exercise on darker days can be really difficult for a multitude of reasons or you may just prefer the environment and options provided by a gym or leisure centre. Exercise is a personal thing and it’s really important to pick something you enjoy and that suits your routine the best. It is for this reason that ukactive have been working to keep the nations network of gyms and leisure centres open and whilst there are still local restrictions in some places, even those in Tier 3 in England should be able to access their local provision.

Workout at home

For others maybe working out at home is a better option, and there has been a huge rise in home workouts during these last few months. Sport England’s Join the Movement campaign hopes to inspire people with fun ways of getting active and there is a hub where you can find all sorts of free and easy to do options. It also provides further advice about getting active outdoors, such as where to find NHS apps like the Couch to 5k or Active 10.

Make it work during work

Whether you are continuing to work from home or heading to work each day, building an active element into your working day and reducing sitting time will not only improve your health but will boost your productivity, mood and motivation even on the greyest of days. Regardless of your work environment, there are so many things you can do during the working day, from simple desk stretches, to active travel, to getting your team involved in an active challenge. The Federation of Small Businesses have created an activity hub, with a range of resources that are aimed at helping you stay active during the working day whatever your job may be.

Maintain social interactions through activity

Many areas of the UK now find themselves once again under stricter restrictions and limitations of socialising indoors. Meaningful connections are just as critical to mental health as exercise. So, why not switch that café catch-up to a take away coffee and a walk with a friend? You’ll keep warm, get that vital human interaction, outdoor time and some exercise all in one go.

Routine, routine, routine

As the clocks change this weekend, use it as a way to rethink your routine rather than seeing it as a negative. Think about kicking off a new or re-boosted routine that will help you look after yourself through the winter months. Create something that works for you and your life.

Overall, pick something you enjoy and set small, regular goals; this will ensure you keep moving through the winter months which can only be good for both your physical and mental health.

Find out the latest free resources to recharge and support your winter routine here:

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