The reason exercising and staying motivated is harder in winter

It's common knowledge now that exercise is good for both your mental and physical health, with research also showing that being active outdoors is even better for you.

But as winter arrives, and brings with it temperature drops and shorter days, exercising in the cold and dark definitely sounds less appealing. Here's why you might be losing motivation to exercise - and what you can do to fix it.

Gray hair women exercise outdoor in park, she is stretching after running. She is wearing sports clothing. Fogy and cold weather
Exercising in the cold might not sound very appealing. Photo: Getty

Why we might lose motivation to exercise in winter?

Much of your motivation comes down to 'why we exercise', associate Professor Eric Brymer, from the Australian College of Applied Psychology, explains to Yahoo Lifestyle.

"For those of us who love exercise – who are intrinsically motivated – this may not be an issue as we love the feel and sensation of exercising, no matter the conditions," Prof Brymer tells us.

"For many of us though this is not the case. Often exercise is done for more extrinsic reasons."

The four types of extrinsic motivation are:

  1. External regulation which is about exercising for an external reward.

  2. Introjected regulation which means you buy into the importance of exercise but not completely and may be exercising to enhance a sense of identity or reduce guilt.

  3. Regulation through identification, which means you likely value exercise or exercise is important to you.

  4. Integrated regulation, which means you have managed to integrate exercise with your own value system.

High angle shot of a young woman using a smartphone on the sofa at home
Have you already lost motivation to keep your body moving? Photo: Getty

"When times get a little hard, it is likely that motivation for exercise will reduce or even stop if your reasons for exercise are either external regulation or introjected regulation," Prof Brymer continues, adding that even those who have integrated exercise with their values will struggle when it gets cold and dark.

"The good news is that you are not stuck in one of the four types of motivation listed above. It is possible to move through each type with a little intentional effort. The winter months can help you work out why you exercise and how you can move closer to integrated or even intrinsic motivation."

Why exercising in winter can be tough

A drop in motivation can be one reason for choosing to workout less in the winter months, but it turns out there is also a scientific reason behind our urge to hibernate come winter, and it’s all to do with our vitamin D levels.

A study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology in 2018 discovered a correlation between higher vitamin D levels and increased cardiorespiratory fitness (the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen to the muscles during exercise).

On the flip side, because sunlight – our go-to vitamin D source – is more scarce in winter, our levels of the vitamin go down – along with our fitness levels.

Cropped shot of a young confident woman stretching legs after running at the park, against sunlight at sunset.
More sun definitely helps our fitness levels. Photo: Getty

The study assessed health data belonging to 1,995 people between the ages of 20 and 49. The research team then analysed each participant’s oxygen consumption level alongside their vitamin D levels.

Researchers discovered that participants with the highest amount of vitamin D levels had a significantly higher cardiorespiratory fitness than participants in the lowest category.

One of the authors of the study Dr Amr Marawan concluded, "Our study shows that higher levels of vitamin D are associated with better exercise capacity."

So, that explains why our fitness levels often drop off in winter – because we are lacking the nutrient we need to supply oxygen to our muscles.

Join our Winter Workout Challenge with Kayla Itsines and Sweat

kayla itsines Winter Workout series yahoo
Yahoo Lifestyle's Winter Workout Challenge with Kayla Itsines starts today! Photo: Yahoo

Well winter is here and if you're already struggling with the motivation to stick to your workout routine, we've got you covered.

Join us for an exclusive 4-week Winter Workout Challenge with fitness queen herself Kayla Itsines and her incredible team of Sweat trainers starting today (June 1).

We will have a new express workout and recovery routine each week for you to do at home, as well as tips and tricks to keep you motivated. Maybe you'll even branch out and try a new style of exercise.

Try the first express workout that requires no equipment here.

Additional reporting by Danielle Fowler.

Never miss a thing. Sign up to Yahoo Lifestyle’s daily newsletter.

Or if you have a story idea, email us at