Today is the shortest day of the year. Keep exercising! Longer days are on their way…. - Women In Sport

Today is the shortest day of the year. Keep exercising! Longer days are on their way….

December 2021

It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s wet and it feels like such an effort to get bundled up in warm gear and do what you normally love, exercising outdoors.  There’s nothing like those grim winter days to dampen your resolve to go out running, walking and cycling.

Our poll found that 67% of women do less exercise during the winter months and this is down to the weather, the shorter days and darker nights, which all impact motivation and simply make it less fun to do. Yet keeping fit and active has never been so important, particularly now, when your own happiness, health and wellbeing are being impacted by the seemingly never-ending onslaught of Covid.

Finding the right warm clothing for exercising outdoors can be difficult and frankly expensive. In our recent research study with adolescent girls, a third told us they simple don’t have the appropriate sports clothing or footwear for winter weather. This is a huge barrier to getting outdoors as wearing the right gear definitely makes it a positive experience rather than feeling like a punishment!

For others though, a switch to indoor activities is the answer to keeping up those fitness levels and still enjoying regular activity.

‘Exercise changes rather than reduces in frequency. Mainly because I’m not keen on running in the dark late at night!’ Laura

‘Defo more squash, table tennis and badminton in winter. Less running, cycling and walking.’ Jo

However, this has certainly been more challenging during recent times due to the limitations on indoor exercise during the Covid pandemic and understandable concerns about being in crowded spaces. Online exercise and dance classes can provide an alternative in the winter months and we have seen a huge increase in the different opportunities available with live classes, pre-recorded classes and some local classes now providing a choice of both online and in-venue attendance.

Taking advantage of flexibility in the working day when its still light is a definite option and we call on employers to actively encourage and embrace taking time out for exercise at work, whether working from home or back in the office to avoid the dark evening times.

However, for women and girls there’s that added deterrent, a worry about safety in the dark which forces you to make different choices about where to do your exercise, what route you take and whether you go out alone. Kelly told us:

 ‘’I love running, generally early in the morning but I do feel vulnerable in the dark, and so run less… I hate that I feel this way and try to rationalise – am I unsafe or is it perception?’’

I know what’s going through my head before I leave the house for my regular run in the evenings: How do I avoid those dark areas with no streetlights? Is that alleyway the best choice or do I make a detour? Do I want to run on that stretch of road by the common? Can I wear my earphones or do I need to listen out? This checklist, if you like, is so routine when I am thinking of exercising alone and can make me think twice about getting out there limiting the enjoyment of running I usually love.

We hear this all the time from women and girls who are weighing up the risk versus the enjoyment. So what can we do? Our recent research shows that around four out of ten adolescent girls don’t feel safe and are regularly harassed by others shouting comments. Add to that dark evenings and it suddenly feels a whole lot less appealing to get out there. So, until society sorts itself on that score,  we may need to adapt our usual routine. Pre-planning becomes more important. Adapting the route so we know there is good lighting and it feels safe. Running with friends rather than alone can not only provide additional motivation to get out there and do it, but also increases commitment and importantly alleviates the anxiety of being alone in the dark.

We want to ensure that women and girls can continue to enjoy taking exercise outdoors throughout the winter months.

Share your inspiration and ideas and take a look at our winter report for some further thoughts on this.