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Five hot fitness tips for cold weather

(ARA) - Finding time for exercise during the hectic holiday months can be challenging. For many people, a fitness regime gets tossed out with the wrapping paper. This makes getting back into a consistent exercise routine for the New Year an essential but difficult battle. And during dark winter months, fewer daylight hours and cooler temperatures can decrease motivation for even the most dedicated fitness buffs.

Despite discouraging factors during the winter, Americans should continue to strive to get back on track with moderate physical activity. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most adults need at least 30 minutes of exercise five days each week to stay healthy. Here are five tips to help you get in gear and stay on the path to good health this winter.

* Sneak in fitness activities
Biking is a fun way to get a workout, without feeling like you are working out. Bicycle commuting burns an average of 540 calories per hour. "Half of all trips we make are three miles or less, so biking instead of driving for short trips is a great way to get your daily exercise," says Tim Blumenthal, director of PeopleForBikes.org.

* Find a partner
Exercising with someone else will help keep you committed to physical activity. Studies show people who work out with a friend are more likely to exercise consistently. Walk with a neighbor or join a group bike ride organized by a bike store or local club.

* Bundle up
Investing in quality winter gear will keep you ready for many different weather conditions. Dress in layers and remove clothing as you warm up. Look for light, breathable fabric that isn't too bulky. Also, don't forget to adequately cover your hands and feet.

* Add variety
Mixing exercise activities will keep your body and your brain from getting bored. If you normally run or walk, try alternative cardio workouts. If you live in an area with snow, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing can effectively burn calories. In mild climates, try riding your bike up a steep hill several times in a row: now that's a workout.

* Embrace nature
Consider trading your indoor treadmill for outdoor recreation. A study conducted by the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry found exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy and positive engagement. Although it can be hard to get motivated when it's chilly outside, the fresh air will provide a better workout.

These tips will help you jump common winter exercise barriers. Keeping off those extra pounds during the winter will prepare you well for spring and swimsuit season. And, even more important, staying active during the winter will help you feel your best all year round.

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