It’s only cold if you’re standing still.

It’s easy to stay inside this time of year. The nights are longer, and the weather is cold and blustery. It’s probably dark when you leave for work and dark when you get home. The natural inclination is to curl up by the fire with a book or with the remote, bury yourself under a blanket, and drink something to warm you up. I know that’s what I’d prefer to do most nights.

But the truth is, winter is a dangerous time for our health, both physical and mental. A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed an exponentially larger risk for health problems for people with sedentary lifestyles compared to those with a more active lifestyle. The study concluded that a lack of physical activity could result in up to a 500% difference in the mortality rates of people with sedentary lifestyles.

Sen. Mike Bernskoetter

Winter can also take a toll on mental health. Cold weather, especially extreme cold snaps, causes people to go into a sort of hibernation mode, staying inside and eschewing contact with others. This, combined with lower exposure to sunlight, makes conditions ripe for bouts of depression or anxiety. This year is especially challenging since folks spent so much of last year isolated or inside due to concerns about COVID-19.

With this one-two punch of health risks, it’s up to us to find a way to combat the effects that winter weather has on our bodies. Even though the most appealing winter evening might be one spent huddled up inside, it’s important that we find ways to stay active and get some sunlight, even in the depths of winter.

Exercise is the first thing people seem to bring up, and for a good reason. Even just 20 minutes of aerobic exercise has been shown to make a measurable difference in your well-being. It’s important to find an exercise or activity that you enjoy; it shouldn’t be viewed as a chore. Some people enjoy jogging. I’m envious of them. However, I do like getting out and hiking through our parks and enjoying our state’s natural resources. We have a great system of state parks in Missouri, and to me, a trek through a park or national forest feels a lot less like exercise and a lot more like fun.

Biking is another great outdoor activity, and many of us have access to the Katy Trail just across the river. It allows you to bike or hike along the Missouri River bottoms for a scenic and safe way to get a little exercise. Additionally, I carried a bill in 2019 that allows for the creation of the Rock Island Trail, another rails-to-trails park that will run through the southern part of Missouri’s 6th Senatorial District, including towns south of Jefferson City like Versailles, Eldon, and Argyle, providing even more opportunity for outdoor activity in our area.

Something else I enjoy during the winter is hunting. There are multiple hunting seasons open during the winter, and it’s a great way to get sunlight. We’ve got a very well managed system of public hunting areas in our state, and there are plenty of places to get out and try to bag dinner for the evening.

There are almost certainly going to be times you can’t or just don’t want to get outside during the winter. That’s why it’s a great idea to have a group of friends to exercise with indoors. A group of people to play basketball or racquetball, or to take a yoga or swim class with, will help motivate you to at least get out of the house and get some exercise. Again, I’m for anything that seems more like fun than exercise, and a group activity can also help counteract the isolation people sometimes feel during the winter months.

Whatever you enjoy doing, I hope you keep active this winter and throughout the year. You’ll  feel better and have a much greater chance of staying healthy throughout your life.

Sen. Mike Bernskoetter has been serving Missouri’s 6th Senatorial District since 2019.