How to Stay Active with Less Daylight


Every year, turning the clocks back for daylight savings hits me like a ton of bricks. One day we were enjoying an abnormal 75-degree fall day, the next it was pitch black by 5 pm (and yet, I was wearing a tank top and shorts during my evening run). I don’t know about you, but my body gets exceptionally confused.

During the winter, when the sun sets around 4:30 pm each day, your body naturally wants to sloth it up. Your circadian rhythm (the internal clock in your body) is activated by exposure to daylight, so as the days grow shorter and darker, your brain sends a signal to your body that it should slow down and be a little lazier.

Translation? It’s all too easy to get stuck in the rut of leaving work, skipping the workout to go straight home and hunkering down with warm comfort food, sugary snacks and red wine until March. But we all know that’s not a great way to spend four months out of the year, right?

(Actually, it sounds pretty great. But for the sake of a healthy lifestyle filled with moderation, activity and balance, let’s operate under the assumption that we do not want to hibernate all winter.)

So how do you trick your mind and your body into hitting your daily and weekly activity goals, even when there’s less daylight out? We’ve got a few ideas.

Take Advantage of the Early Morning Hours

Have you always wanted to be a morning workout person, but never quite made it to the gym at sunrise? Try and establish that habit now. Since the sunrise time is earlier after daylight savings time ends, it’s easier for you to wake up and feel energetic. The early morning sun will boost your mood, but it’s easy to miss it if you go straight to work first thing in the morning (especially if you sleep until the last possible second).

Even if you don’t foresee yourself becoming a workout rooster, set your alarm for just ten minutes earlier and get in a quick walk around the block. Or, one of my favorite hacks is to get off the bus a few stops before I reach my destination and walk the rest of the way. Make getting sun in the morning a priority, and it’ll set the active tone for the rest of your day.

No More Desk Lunches

In the same vein, take advantage of your lunch break to go on a quick walk out of the office. Run an errand you had planned for after work, window-shop or just walk aimlessly listening to your favorite podcast. Not only will you enjoy some much-needed Vitamin D, but you’ll get back to your desk feeling way more mentally refreshed than if you’d stayed chained to your computer.

Another idea? If you have an open office space, try switching things up and moving from your desk to an area of the office that gets the most sunlight.

Short and Sweet Workouts

Sometimes, the idea of an hour-long workout class (not to mention getting to and from the gym, plus showering and changing) just seems way too exhausting and not worth the effort. Your solution? The thirty-minute workout. As we’ve shown the past several weeks with our daily 30-minute workout posts, half an hour is MORE than enough time to break a serious sweat, especially if you’re working in high intensity intervals. Plus, a thirty-minute workout is much more mentally approachable than something longer, especially if you’re scheduling it for the end of the day when it’s dark outside.

No gym? No excuses. We’ve got all the bodyweight workouts you can dream of.

Light It Up

You’re probably sensing a theme here: exposing yourself to as much light as possible during winter will help you maintain your energy levels. But some days, that might not be enough. If you find that’s often the case, try using a light box or a happy lamp. Broad spectrum white light boxes (look for one with about 10,000 lux) can be effective in doses of 20-30 minutes per day, and they’re most beneficial when used in the early morning when you first wake up. Chat with your doctor if you think you need one or if you think your winter blues are affecting you significantly.

Sign Up For Classes in Advance

Instead of waiting until the last minute to book your spot in a class just in case you suddenly “don’t feel like it” (guilty), plan your workout schedule a week at a time and sign up for group classes in advance. You’ll be less likely to back out last minute because of the cancellation fees. For an added bonus, get your friends to sign up with you for even more accountability and so you’ll get some good social time in during a season where everyone tends to stick to their own homes.

Set Up Your Goals

Who says you have to wait until the New Year’s season to rededicate yourself to some fitness goals? Whether it’s doing a strict pull-up or signing up for a spring race, today is as good a time as any to challenge yourself to a fitness goal and create a training schedule to help you get there.


Having less sunlight sucks, of course. But by staying active throughout the dark winter days, you’ll find yourself with more energy and in a better mood than if you succumbed to the hibernation temptation. Get out there and show winter who’s boss.

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About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.

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