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Family Files

Staying active and socially connected in winter

Two people walking together on a snowy trail.

During the winter months, I usually notice a significant downward shift in my energy level and motivation to get out and socialize with friends. The cold, dark, snowy weather often makes me want to curl up on the couch to watch a movie or read a book in my free time. 

Can anyone else relate? 

Staying in on a cold winter day can be a great way to unwind and slow down. However, doing so too often might increase the risk for social isolation, loneliness, and physical inactivity. According to a recent poll by the National Recreation and Park Association, 58% of adults report they are less active during the winter months. Additionally, about half of US adults experience loneliness, such a common experience that social isolation and loneliness have been identified as an epidemic by the US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, in his recent Surgeon General Advisory

Unfortunately, there are significant health implications of lacking social connection and being physically inactive. According to the Surgeon General's Advisory, lacking social connection is associated with increased risk for premature death, heart disease, stroke, anxiety, depression, dementia, and susceptibility to viruses and respiratory conditions. Similarly, according to the CDC and Johns Hopkins, physical inactivity can lead to increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and increased feelings of anxiety and depression. Fortunately, social connection and physical activity can reverse many of these risks.

With that in mind, I wanted to try something new this winter that would encourage me to be active and social in my community despite the cold, dark conditions outside enticing me to stay home. So, I signed up for a ballet class. I’ll admit this was a little daunting at first, as it’s been more than ten years since I took a ballet class back in college. But now the class has become an enjoyable part of my routine and something fun that I look forward to throughout the week. Plus, I’ve made some new friends and I’m getting more exercise!  

Maybe ballet isn’t really your thing. The good news is there are many different ways to increase both social connections and physical activity, which can boost your mental and physical well-being. If you notice yourself withdrawing from social or physical activities in the winter months, here are some tips for staying active and engaged all season long:

  • Go for a brief walk outside and invite a friend or family member to join you. There are many benefits of being active outside, even in the winter months, including increased energy, Vitamin D, and boosts both to the immune system and mood.  Walking with friends can increase social connections, reduce isolation and loneliness, and promote brain health. Socializing while walking encourages new brain cell growth and connections which can help protect cognition and memory.
  • Keep warm. Being outside in cold weather can often be tolerable and even enjoyable, especially if you are dressed in appropriate layers and winter outerwear. Some research suggests that if you are cold you may be more likely to feel lonely. So, bundle up- it can help you feel both physically and emotionally cozy.
  • Share a meal with others. Meet up with friends at a coffee shop, attend a congregate meal in your community, or invite family or friends to cook a meal together and even shop for ingredients together beforehand. Sharing a meal or snack with others can be a great way to socialize and ensure you are getting adequate nutrition.
  • If the weather isn’t cooperating, try an indoor activity. Do some research on your local community resources as many fitness and recreation facilities have walking groups and exercise classes or offer indoor walking spaces. Going to museums and participating in indoor sports, such as bowling and ice skating, can be great ways to be social and active indoors on cold days. There are also many videos or live streamed classes online for yoga, tai chi, and other exercises that can help you stay active from your home.
  • Use technology to help you connect with others. If you to need stay home due to the weather, social media and digital communication platforms can make it easy to connect with others regardless of physical distance. Plan a virtual social activity with friends and family members near and far. Maybe start a virtual book club, craft night, or even play charades over a video call. The opportunities are endless!
  • Commit to trying something new. Volunteering can be a great way to stay active and build social connections, while helping others in your community. Or sign up for a class in the community to learn a new hobby, skill, or language. Committing to volunteering or taking a class can help you follow through and ensure that staying socially and physically active becomes part of your wintertime routine.
  • Look ahead to spring! Focus on things that you can look forward to and help you stay active. Maybe start an indoor garden or get a jump on spring cleaning and organization with your family.


National Recreation and Park Association

US Department of Health and Human Services

Surgeon General’s Advisory on Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Johns Hopkins Medicine

University of Utah Health

Harvard Health

Campaign to End Loneliness