January 31, 2018 by Jean
One 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.