The year is coming to a close. And, as it does, cold weather is descending on much of the planet.

This can make it hard to get active. And if you’re not a particularly active person in the warmer months anyway, the cold weather can make staying fit seem impossible.

But there is hope!

Sure, you could go out and get a pricey gym membership. Or you could invest in a home gym that would make an infomercial director proud.

But thankfully, there are easier ways to stay in shape through the fall and winter months. And the most effective tips are, surprisingly, small steps that will make physical activity part of your daily life.

After all, staying in shape is about morethan exercise and burning calories. It’s about setting healthy lifestyle habits that will keep you fit, no matter the season.

With a little practice, these habits can (and will) carry over into the warmer months, leading to fitter you all year-round!

Decide What Works for You

Fitness goals generally work better when you find the best fit for you. For example, everyone you know may love Zumba… but if you’re not a dancer, those classes won’t get you up and moving.

The first thing you want to do is find something you already enjoy that gets you on your feet.

If you like window shopping at the mall, make it a point to hit your favorite shopping center every few days just for the walk. This is especially helpful in the colder months, when walking outside might not seem so appealing.

Then again, you might love the snow and the fresh nip of cold air. In that case, turning back to some favorite childhood pastimes might be just the ticket. You will want to make sure you do it safely, of course.

But building a snow fort or your very own Frosty the Snowman will get your heart rate up and really work out your arms. Other activities like sledding can really give you a workout as you hike back up the hill after each run.

Set Goals & Rewards

There’s a good chance that you had some kind of reward chart as a kid.

It might have been at school or at home, like a homework or chore chart. But most people have at least one memory of a chart that tracked their progress and rewarded continued achievement with a highly anticipated reward.

Even if you’re well past grade school, this method can still work! You can opt for something other than stickers or stamps to track your progress.

There are a ton of fun fitness tracking apps on the market these days, for example. These apps will help keep you on track until you reach your goals.

Then you can give yourself any number of great rewards!

The trick is to keep your goals specific and reasonable. You won’t be able to meet your goals if you normally don’t work out, and then you say you’re going to hit the gym every day.

Instead, try something more along the lines of “I will walk continuously for thirty minutes a day,” or something equally specific, tailored to your individual needs.

Build Motivation Into the Routine

Most people find that they cannot build a new habit – or reinforce one that has flagged over time – without proper motivation.

You already know about goals and rewards, but it’s important to note that motivation is its own separate thing.

Goals and rewards are what pull you to the end of your workout. Motivation is what gets you started.

Motivation works best when it’s built right into the routine. It could be as simple as only watching your favorite TV show while you’re on a stationary bicycle. Or maybe you only get to listen to new music, a certain audiobook, or your favorite podcast when you’re out for a walk.

Motivation can also involve other people, such as telling a friend you’ll meet them for a workout. Nobody likes to leave their friends waiting, after all!

This time of year, you can also find extra motivation in holiday events, especially local public ones.

If you want to visit the local craft fair, set a date with a friend to walk through the booths. You’ll get yourself moving, enjoy a local event, and have a day with your friend. That’s a triple dose of motivation to help get you moving!

Start Small

When people want to set new habits, they tend to jump into the deep end.

They invest a lot of money in fancy equipment or specialized supplies. Or, barring that, they try to overhaul their schedules so they can devote huge chunks of time to setting their new habit in stone.

Unfortunately, these methods usually don’t work. Making a huge commitment up front adds a ton of pressure, so that even the tiniest slip-up becomes a devastating blow to the person’s confidence.

Instead of jumping head-first into something a new habit, start small.

Your new habit could be getting active, eating healthier, or learning a new winter sport. Regardless of the specific habit, you’re going to see better results if you start small.

Set aside 10-15 minutes a day to practice or get yourself moving. Over time, you can grow that commitment into longer periods of time or more intense activity.

But setting up the habit is the first step, and starting small makes it easier.

The Most Important Thing

There is one tip that will help you more than the rest of these combined:

Be kind to yourself.

It doesn’t matter if you’re usually the most active person you know, or if getting fit is something new to you. When the weather turns cold and holiday stress seeps into your days, being kind to yourself is a necessity.

This means going easy on days you don’t feel good. And it means not berating yourself when you miss a couple days or indulge too much at a party.

Physical activity isn’t a punishment. Coupling it with kindness reinforces that being active is something you do for yourself, not to yourself.

And, in the end, that is what will make these habits stick, no matter the weather.