Winter Exercise


January 31, 2018 by Jean

gym-clip-art-gym-clip-art-14One of my recurring dilemmas is how to get enough exercise in winter. During the good weather months, my preferred form of exercise is walking along the rural roads in my neighborhood. In summer, I usually go out first thing and walk a 2 mile or 3.5 mile or 4 mile route. Once winter weather sets in and the roads get icy, however, walking on the side of the road no longer seems like a healthful activity (more like a suicidal one!).

Some regular readers may be thinking about my rural lifestyle and wondering how I could worry about not getting enough exercise. And it’s true that winter chores like shoveling snow and hauling around wood for my woodstove provide a workout. But these activities are episodic, both in the sense that they don’t happen several times a week on a regular schedule and in the sense that they don’t have the same aerobic effect as a long, sustained walk.

When I first moved into this house almost thirty years ago, I used to get up on winter mornings, put on my cross-country skis, and ski through the woods behind my house. The big ice storm of 1998, which brought trees and limbs down across my former skiing trails, brought an end to that strategy for winter exercise. For a decade or so, I went skiing pretty regularly at a state park not far from my house. But it’s been about ten years since I last put on my cross-country skis. I’m no longer comfortable skiing alone (for fear of a fall and injury), and the road through the park I used to ski on now gets plowed in the winter (which means that I would need to ski on narrower, hillier trails). In the past ten years, I have generally made do with an indoor exercise program that involves a combination of stepping on and off the bottom step of my stepstool and walking loops through the rooms of my house – boring, but better than nothing.

This year I thought I had a new solution to my winter exercise problem. My new Medicare Advantage plan includes membership in the SilverSneakers® program, which allows members to use local gyms. I found a participating gym about twenty minutes away from my house and imagined that I would go to the gym and walk on the treadmill three or four days a week. Unfortunately, after going to the gym twice in the first week, I fell off the wagon. There turned out to be two problems with this exercise plan. The first is the time involved. By the time I drive to the gym, change into my workout clothes, do my walk, change back into my street clothes and drive home, a thirty minute walk requires a ninety minute commitment, making it much harder to fit into a busy life. The second problem is that I hate the ambience of the gym. My outdoor walks are a time to savor the quiet of the morning, to tune into the sights, sounds and scents of nature, and to center myself for the day. The gym, by contrast, is busy and noisy. There is a constant soundscape of throbbing rock music, and using a treadmill means facing a row of nine large television screens, each tuned to a different channel. Add the noise of machinery and loud conversations, and the resulting sensory overload is anything but calming.

It has quickly become apparent to me that trying to get winter exercise at the gym is not going to enhance either my health or quality of life. I need an exercise venue that fits my introvert’s love of calm and quiet. And I need to get outdoors where I can soak up the natural light and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. Several people have suggested snowshoeing as a less fall-prone alternative to cross-country skiing. A few days ago, I discovered that the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands has a mobile ski and snowshoe van that they bring to state parks, providing equipment free of charge to those who want to try it out, and they are soon going to be at the state park near my house. I am planning to go, get fitted with some snowshoes, perhaps get some instruction, and try this out as a form of winter exercise. I have high hopes for snowshoeing as a way to stay happy, healthy and fit through the winter.

12 thoughts on “Winter Exercise

  1. Laurel says:

    I totally agree with you about the gym. I just signed up for SilverSneakers, but know I won’t be going to the gym. I’d much rather go for a walk, so I’m trying to find new places to walk even though it means driving there. I have a zoo membership and went first thing in the morning. No lines, few people and plenty of parking. I had a great walk with plenty of hills and stairs and flat paths, and lots of animals.

    • Jean says:

      I think there are people who walk at the mall (about the same distance from my house as the gym) before it opens in the morning, so that’s another option to consider.

  2. Jean R. says:

    The gym experience sure isn’t for everyone! In the winter going through the snowy streets to get there just doesn’t appeal to me. Ours doesn’t allow radios, phones, TV or music which is nice but it gets boring working on machines. But maybe it’s time to get an exercise bike for home.

    Question: Why do you think you’ll feel safe on snowshoes doing it alone when you don’t on cross-country skis? It seems like it would be the same risks. Maybe you could start a little morning club for snowshoeing through your online “Nextdoor” or a similar app or with flyers at the park?

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I think snowshoes, which are short and fat, provide a much more stable base than cross-country skis, which are long and skinny. I also think the stomping movement of snowshoeing will be less challenging to balance than the gliding motion of skiing. The park that is about a five-minute drive from my house has a 1.5-mile loop through the pine trees that is flat and groomed for showshoeing. It sounds lovely. If I got ambitious, I could make two circuits around the loop for 3 miles.

  3. salander says:

    Ok. I live in Seattle. Although we don’t get a lot of snow in the winter walking and getting drenched is not fun. So, here’s how I manage the gym. Why do you change clothes at the gym? What is the point? Just go in your gym clothes, put a sweatshirt on and a jacket and buy some yoga pants. Next get a good book. I’m presently reading Fire and Fury and it’s perfect for the treadmill. No plot so you can stop and begin anywhere. Next get some noise canceling headphones to block out the gym noise. I use them all the time. Priceless. Get on the treadmill and go. I knock out five miles every other day when it’s raining. Of course I’d rather walk outside who wouldn’t, but am I going to compromise my exercise which at this point is as necessary as eating and sleeping. Sacrifice a little…it’s in your head. just do it! I am 68 years old and weight 121. On the days that I don’t walk I lift weights (three times a week) I have watched my strength and fitness explode! I can lift more than I could at twenty. Of course you have to start somewhere. Lifting weights is fantastic exercise but I don’t do it at home. It’s off to the gym…with the clothes I’m wearing.

    • Jean says:

      Salander, It sounds like you have worked out an exercise routine that you are committed to and that works well for you.Of course, it might not work so well for someone (like me) with different circumstances and different priorities. (Exercise is not my highest priority.) Why I change clothes at the gym: Mostly because, for environmental reasons, I try to consolidate errands and drive as few days as possible. This means that I’m not going to drive all the way into town just to go to the gym; I combine it with other things that need to be done. Yesterday, for example, I sandwiched the gym between an appointment at the Social Security office and grocery shopping. A secondary reason is that the cold winter temperatures in Maine (about 25-30 degrees colder than Seattle) don’t really lend themselves to going outside dressed as you’ve described. I admire your willingness to make the best of the gym, but I’m not willing to exercise in a setting I find so unpleasant for five months of the year. I think the snowshoeing may be the answer for me, and I’m looking forward to giving it a try.

  4. Melanie says:

    A small step-trainer and fitbit might be the answer.

    • Jean says:

      Melanie, thanks for the suggestion. I don’t think I need the Fitbit, but the step-trainer might be a better method than my step stool for exercising at home while I listen to the morning news on NPR.

  5. Brenda says:

    It’s too bad that your gym is so awful. Our local YMCA offers all kinds of wonderful exercise classes, from yoga, to Zumba, to group fitness. It’s a fantastic resource in the winter. I also combine my gym trips with other errands but, unlike you, I have no shame in wearing my exercise clothes all over town! Like you, however, I prefer outdoor exercise whenever possible. I don’t know what kind of snowshoes you are going to get. I prefer the old-fashioned wooden ones and just bought a pair of “GV” ones for a very good price on Amazon.

    • Jean says:

      Brenda, The gym, which is a national chain, would probably be fine for someone who is more of an extravert than I am — but all that sensory stimulation just makes me miserable. There are other gyms in the area that are part of the SilverSneakers program that are probably smaller and quieter, but they are even further away, increasing the commute time still more.

  6. Honey Bee says:

    I do not have one, but friends who do really like their rebounder.

    Honey Bee

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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