How to Change up Your Workout Routine for Fall6 min read
Even if you’re not shuttling kids back to school or in a climate where autumn brings changing leaves and dropping temperatures, there tends to be a shift in our schedules and moods that comes with the start of fall, says Minneapolis-based Lindsay Ogden, a National Academy of Sports Medicine–certified personal trainer and the digital manager for content and coaching at for Life Time, a national fitness company that runs gyms and corporate wellness programs.
Fewer hours of daylight might find you spending less time outdoors, especially in the evenings or early morning hours. You might find yourself less motivated to stick with an outdoor workout, particularly if you had been exercising at one of these times, Ogden says. “Maybe it’s now dark when you get up.”
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Some people find themselves more energized to work out at new times throughout the day, she says. Or you might find yourself craving new ways to work out altogether. That “fresh start” feeling that comes with trying new activities can be really motivating, says Ogden.
The novelty can make it playful and fun — and something you look forward to rather than something you feel like you have to slog through.
Here are a few ideas of activities to try that can help you fit in lots of movement and embrace the change of season:
1. Apple Picking
Fall offers lots of outdoor activities to help you get a few extra steps in, from apple picking to navigating a corn maze to hiking or cycling.
Activities like these can up overall activity throughout the day and offer short bursts of intensity, says Ogden. For example, apple picking requires overhead stretching, as well as twists and forward bends (all good for maintaining mobility). A corn maze might inspire you to sprint through in a race with your friends and family.
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Getting different types of motion than you’d find in the gym can improve fitness overall, Ogden explains, since you’re using multiple muscle groups. Plus, she adds that being outdoors can give you an additional mental health boost.
“Wherever you are, think about ways to enjoy the season and truly embrace it,” Ogden suggests. Enjoying movement will make it feel less like work.
2. Fun Runs
Fall is definitely “fun run” season, says Ogden. For instance, many cities have a turkey trot run either on Thanksgiving or the weekend after. Other fun runs have themes — like a color run, where you jog through clouds of nontoxic colored powders, or a leaf run, where you run through a tree-lined course resplendent in autumn colors — and encourage participants to dress up in costumes or festive attire, Ogden says. Many of these races have a less intimidating 5K or other shorter distance option, or allow you to walk the route. Music, post-event celebrations, and the company of others offer a party-like atmosphere.
“It’s all about having a good time,” Ogden says. They’re especially great if you’re just getting into running — or you haven’t but want to, Ogden says — as they offer a fun and manageable goal to work toward.
Working out does not need to be a chore, and cooler weather doesn’t mean your only option is hitting the treadmill at the gym. Instead, turn on your favorite beats and get moving.
The benefits of dancing can be formidable, whether you’re grooving to your favorite song as a solo dancer or taking a class with others. For example, in a small study of postmenopausal women published in July 2021 in the journal Menopause, researchers asked 36 women (with an average age of 57) to take dance classes together three times per week for 16 weeks. At the end of those four months, participants had better cholesterol numbers, improved balance and strength, and even higher self-esteem.
The benefits likely come partially from the social component and sharing plenty of laughs, suggests Scott Kaiser, MD, geriatrician and director of geriatric cognitive health for Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California. Although he wasn’t involved in the research, he says that similar studies on physical activity and social connections have highlighted the strong connection between them.
“And with dance, or any class that’s unfamiliar to you, you’re learning something new,” he adds. The novelty can make the pursuit exciting.
If a live, in-person group class isn’t an option, try apps like Steezy and iDance that have a range of classes at all levels, and include free tryout periods.
“Even if you just dance around your living room to one song, that tends to give you a boost in terms of health and mood,” Dr. Kaiser says. Doing movement you enjoy will make it easier to stick with.
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4. Yin Yoga
As the evenings get longer and you head toward winter, it’s helpful to acknowledge that downshift and lean into it, says Ogden. That means maybe instead of fighting it with intense HIIT sessions, get quieter and more restful with a practice like yin yoga. Although some yin practices can be similar to a restorative practice, others can truly be a workout, she adds.
This type of yoga involves holding poses longer, usually from three to five minutes, and letting your body “sink” into the position. This provides a feeling of relaxation and relief to some degree, which is a great way to keep your workout stress-relieving (rather than stress-inducing) as you’re adjusting to perhaps a ramped-up fall routine. But it’s not all chilling out — these longer holds can feel intense, especially after the first minute, and you may find it more of a challenge than you expected, but in a good way.
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5. Raking Leaves and Other Yardwork
Not all fitness efforts have to be full-on, structured workouts. Ogden says home gardening tasks like raking leaves or planting tulip bulbs for spring can help your body move in different ways.
These can be part of what’s called high-intensity incidental physical activity, according to the authors of an editorial published in February 2019 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. They define this type of activity as sporadic bursts of exercise that can be done through everyday tasks like raking, house cleaning, carrying heavy groceries, or sprinting up a flight of stairs.
The researchers explain in that report that adding even a few seconds of these activities into daily life can have significant health benefits (like improving cardiovascular function, regulating blood sugar more effectively, and lowering risk of type 2 diabetes), particularly for people who are otherwise very sedentary.
6. Strength Training
The cooler months can be a great time to add strength training workouts to your fitness routine. Less daylight and harsher weather may cause you to be looking for more indoor-friendly workouts anyway, says Clearwater, Florida–based Mike Matthews, CSCS, author of The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation.
There’s plenty of research that highlights the advantages of lifting weights. For example, a research review published in May 2021 in Sports Medicine suggests it can help regulate blood sugar and improve cardiometabolic health, lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart conditions.
Not so jazzed about dropping down and pumping out a bunch of pushups? Matthews suggests trying a strength training workout you’ve never done before. Trying something new can be a major motivation boost, he says.
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“When you’re short on time — like if your fall schedule gets very busy — strength training can be very efficient, and just a few sessions a week can make a difference for helping you feel stronger,” he says.
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