Seasonal Affective Fitness Disorder

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Have you ever had one of those winters when you thought it would never be spring? I’m having one this year. Despite my lovely new socks, I’m still feeling the winter blues. I should pause here to say that seasonal affective disorder is a real thing, and can be serious for those who are brought down by it. Much more serious than the winter blues. But this year my winter blues are more complicated than in the past. And that’s because I’m struggling to stay motivated to stay fit.

Fitness is key to my winter survival. Partly because when spring finally rolls around I don’t want to NOT fit into my spring clothes. And partly because working on my fitness helps me feel better about myself. And helps me to feel better, period. There is so much science to support the idea that exercise benefits us physically and psychologically as we age. In fact new studies tell us what we’ve always kind of known, that making a habit of physical exercise slows aging, keeping our muscles, our heart, and our immune system strong. Not to mention helping to stave off anxiety and depression. But despite knowing on an intellectual level the benefits of exercise, this winter I’ve found it hard to find the motivation to get out there and just do it.

The view near the top of the Loma Del Pliegue Tumbado hike in Patagonia, near El Chalten, Argentina, 2017.
Not hard to hike on a beautiful day in these surroundings. Loma Del Pliegue Tumbado, Patagonia, 2017.

In the past during the depths of winter we’ve fled the snow and ice, for a time anyway. In 2017 we travelled to Argentina and Peru. It was no hardship hiking when we were rewarded with views like the one above in Patagonia. Seeing new places is always a motivating factor to get outside and get walking. Hubby and I walk a lot when we travel, in cities or on hiking trails.

In April of 2016, on our way home from North Carolina, we stopped in Virginia for a day and hiked to the famous McAfee Knob, part of the Appalachian Trail. The stunning view, below, was our reward. That plus the cold glass of white wine and the large takeout pizza we inhaled in our hotel room afterwards. Nothing makes fast food taste better than physical exertion, folks. Funnily enough, we first heard of McAfee Knob when we read Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods about his adventures hiking the Appalachian Trail. I wrote about Bryson’s book, and our other favourite wilderness books, here, if you’re interested.

The view from McAfee Knob, Virginia, 2016.
McAfee Knob in Virginia was well worth the walk.

Staying fit in the winter isn’t as easy as other times of the year. Especially if we choose to spend the winter at home. Normally, if we don’t travel in winter, Hubby and I cross-country ski a lot. And arrange a short getaway to ski some more. I’m quite content to sit on my exercise bike most days if I can supplement that exercise with a couple or three days of skiing a week. Fresh air and sunshine, plus the best cardiovascular exercise there is (besides swimming) really gives my fitness a boost. Not to mention the lift to my spirits.

But this winter it hasn’t worked out that way. My skiing this winter was interrupted by a minor back injury, and a few weeks of physio, which then necessitated the cancellation of our ski holiday. We couldn’t postpone the trip because Hubby had surgery scheduled, after which he had strict orders to stay off the trails. And all this when we were getting fabulous amounts of snow, which would have made for, well, fabulous skiing. Ironically if we’d had no snow we might have been better off since we’d have been able to walk or hike our local trails. But instead we had piles of lovely snow, then a big melt, and more snow, and high winds, and then a deep-freeze which made even walking to the car treacherous for a few days. Ha. We’ve been foiled in our outdoor fitness plans every which way.

Beautiful snow drifts and ripples on the river in front of our house.
Lovely snow that we were NOT skiing on this winter.

So we’ve resorted to emergency fitness measures, my friends. Hubby hates working out in the gym, so we’ve been walking… indoors. A new community centre near us has a walking track, and access to it is free. We’ve been tossing our sneakers in a bag, and heading over to the Minto Centre most mornings. I’ve been walking and working my way through lots of mystery novels on my i-pod. I can walk for hours if I’m listening to a good book.

The indoor walking track, at Minto Recreation Complex in Ottawa.
The indoor track is saving our butts this winter.

Some days, though, the track gets a bit crowded, everyone walking at a different pace. And dodging around other walkers gets distracting. You’d be surprised how many pairs of walkers insist on walking side by side. Even when the signs clearly show which lane is the slow lane, even when they must know they are impeding other, faster, walkers. It’s what Hubby calls the oblivious factor. Ha. So when that happens, and I can’t concentrate on my book, I resort to my music.

One day as we were leaving, Hubby laughed and asked, “What happened that made you kick it up into high gear?” “Oh, that was Elton John’s Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting,” I replied. I love that song. It reminds me of high school. I didn’t even realize that I’d shifted gears, until I almost ran right up the back of the guy in front of me. Ha.

Walking indoors is no substitute for being able to get outside in the fresh air and sunshine. But it’s better than nothing. I find I can hack walking the track about three times a week. The rest of the time I’m on my exercise bike, or using the light weights I have in my basement. And on days like the one below, I’m happy to hunker down and pedal my exercise bike. At home. Okay, maybe happy is too strong a word. Resigned, would be more like it.

The snow and blowing snow obscures the view of the river from our window.
Snow, and high winds, and blowing snow mean I’m staying home to exercise.

Normally with no skiing to be had, we’d have elected to escape somewhere warm. But Hubby’s surgery put paid to that idea. Our travel health insurance requires that one’s health must be “stable” for 90 days or the coverage is void. And at our age, at any age really, it’s not smart to travel without insurance.

We’re not the only ones struggling, I know. Lots of people who can’t get out of Dodge this winter, so to speak, are suffering. My mum is having a hard time, too. If getting out in the fresh air is hard for me, it’s doubly hard for her.

So, I’m off to New Brunswick shortly to spend a couple of weeks with Mum. Hopefully we’ll be cheering each other up. Hubby will be home on his own. He had his four week post-surgical check-up today. Two more weeks of confinement, with no skiing, for him. Somehow, I think he’ll be logging lots of hours on the track when I’m down east.

Then maybe, hopefully, when I get home it won’t be long before we feel spring in the air. Maybe dust off the hiking boots, and get the bikes out of the shed. Oh my, won’t that be wonderful?

Young women on their bikes in Gagetown, New Brunswick, 1940's.
My mum and her chums on their bikes, back in the day. That’s mum in the shades and the turban on the right.

In the meantime, I’m trying to not let winter get me down. Dinner out with friends, a few good books, the odd glass of wine. Reading and planning for our next travel adventure. Some furious pedalling on my exercise bike. Listening to Elton John tunes while I dodge other walkers on the track. Whatever it takes to survive when it seems that spring will never come.

What do you do, my friends, to stay motivated to stay fit during a long winter? Any thoughts? Please don’t tell me to take a yoga class. You know how I feel about yoga.

Joining #ShareAllLinkUp over at Not Dressed as Lamb

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46 thoughts on “Seasonal Affective Fitness Disorder”

  1. Of course we never get winters like yours , but two years ago we had a sequence of snow–melt-freeze-rain-freeze that made walking treacherous for weeks, and that put a big dent in my fitness regime. We’re really lucky because the gym in our condo is well-equipped, bright, with a pleasant view, and I’ve worked with a trainer to develop workouts that challenge me but that I can manage on my own. She keeps it fun and provides a variety of options to keep me motivated, and having a choice of rowing machine or treadmill or bike or elliptical makes cardio less boring if it’s too icy to run or walk outside. Given your feelings about yoga, I wonder if you might try Pilates, especially using Reformer machines. I took two Pilates classes a week for years, and found it so good for core strength and for maintaining balance and flexibility. . .

    1. I wish I could find a Pilates class; I’d love to try it. I looked last year and this fall, but the only classes were offered down town, and mostly in the evenings. But I couldn’t face a 40 minute drive there and back. In January, I was all set to go to something slightly different, closer to home, but the weather interfered. We were snowed in and the plow doesn’t do our little dead-end road until the afternoon of the day after the storm. Life in the country can be wonderful in the summer… but sometimes in the winter I do wish we had a condo in Westboro! Ha.

  2. I feel almost guilty typing this as we, in the UK, are experiencing the highest winter temperatures ever recorded – equal to that of early June. It is quite bizarre and I have to keep reminding myself that we aren’t into March yet and that this time last year we were having some of the coldest temperatures and lots of snow. But I love the sound of your walking track and think it is a brilliant idea. I don’t like gyms either but an indoor track at this time of year would be perfect. I wonder if we have any round our way? The secret to avoiding being fed up is to keep dodging, ducking and diving, trying to keep one step ahead of the glooms, at least that is my tack. But also to sometimes admit that yes, you are fed up and no, please don’t jolly me. Hope you are both now feeling better and that the worst is past. Keep buggering on as Churchill used to say.

    1. I’m several hundred miles south of you in Kentucky with no snow — but everyone has the winter blahs. Lots of rain, gray and dreary skies. I saw my crocuses start to bloom today and that let me know spring isn’t too far away. I belong to a wonderful athletic club, but it’s difficult to get the motivation to go. Maybe we share more in common with bears. Hibernation, while not good for the weight scale, might be necessary for our mental health if only we give ourselves permission to drop out for awhile. Sue, what mystery podcasts to you recommend? I find podcasts my new best friend. Many thanks for creating this forum.

      1. I listen to books from Audible.com. Right now I’m listening to Ann Cleeves back list of books… the ones she wrote before she became so well known for her Vera and Shetland series. The narrators on Audible are really good, usually. I should try the podcast thing, though.

  3. I find it really interesting reading about the differences of living in other parts of the world . There are lots of benefits to living where you do & at least you always have a proper summer – not the case here . But my those winters are serious stuff – how deep is that snow ? Many members of my Yorkshire family were emigrants to Canada in the old days & I’ve often wondered how they coped with the winters then . Not just the lack of heating & waterproof clothing but no books , TV or internet in those long winters . I don’t like Gyms , sport or organized exercise I’m afraid but our temperate weather means we are able to walk the dogs , briskly everyday & if I didn’t do that I’d be a couch potato ( I know – my cardiovascular is neglected ) That indoor track is a great idea but I’m worried about Canadian dogs . How do they get their exercise ? The smaller ones would disappear in that snow . I hope you & Stu are fighting fit again now .
    I might have known it would be your mum in the snazzy turban & shades – enjoy your time together .

    1. Sunny, cold days with beautiful snow can be wonderful if one can get outside and enjoy it. And we usually do. I too have wondered how the early immigrants to Canada stayed sane in the winter. Of course some of them didn’t. Hence the term “cabin fever.” I will tell Mum you thought her turban was snazzy. She’ll love that.

  4. Oh boy, I hear you, Sue! No daily skiing for us since my husbands surgery. (Next winter). This year I’ve become a couch potato. I can’t believe how easy it is to fall into this trap. The bike is downstairs waiting for me. Weights, forget it. This is from a gal who ended her active gym membership recently too. Stupid injuries. But I could ride the bike! Perfect timing for this post…it motivates me to get moving. SAD is real and activity keeps it at bay during our long winters.
    I was recently at a shopping mall before opening and noticed all the walkers…some were speed walking , some were strolling, but it was a spacious and bright. To spin a positive on mall walking…I could grab my coffee on your way out!
    Robin
    Ps…have fun with your mom.

    1. I need to go back to Simons when I get down. I commented when I was buying my socks how lovely and bright and colourful the store was. I said to the salesgirl, “It must make you want to wear orange all the time.”

  5. I can totally relate to your winter blues. In Newfoundland we’ve had relentless bitter wind chills for weeks. I’m house bound with a couple of dogs that are going out of their minds from lack of exercise. Spring feels so far away. I also understand the oblivious factor. They’re the same people who stop in the middle of the aisle in a crowded Costco and have a chat on their cell phone.

    1. Oh, Newfoundland winters can be the worst. I remember a few years ago, friends of my family had to climb out the second floor bathroom window after one storm and dig their way to the front door.

  6. Oh dear. I do feel your pain. Living fairly isolated in the hills of Mono, and not having a garage wherein to house my small, but mighty Corolla, has put such a damper on my usual exercise programme these past few months. I typically go into town three times a week to work out with my fabulous fitness instructor and dedicated and friendly group of fellow enthusiasts, but have been foiled time after time by the snow, rain and ice cycle we have been experiencing. I enjoy exercise, and miss it terribly when I don’t get it, but…chipping the ice off the car, or not being able to get out of the drive until our wonderful farmer/plower feeds his cattle, has taken its toll of missed nine o’clock classes. Like you, I am so ready for spring.

    However, as you said, take pleasure when you can. I work occasionally as a casual librarian, and on the few days I work, I have relished the exercise of pacing quickly through three floors of books, unencumbered by parka, boots, mitts and touque. How motivating is that? Today, I am visiting the nearby Millcroft Inn with a couple of friends We will enjoy a massage, followed by some time lounging in their hot pools, followed by dinner in a lovely little restaurant in Alton. It won’t be inexpensive, but a rare and welcome treat. Oh, by the way, is that a big, red snowfall alert for today that I see on my weather website? Ugh.. At least, I got to wake up to one of your, oh so welcome, blog posts.

  7. May I ask for more information about your travel health insurance? Sounds like a smart idea – but where do I research and purchase? Perhaps you could do a post on it in the future?

    1. We have travel health insurance through our “Retired Teachers Insurance Plan” here in Ontario. And great trip interruption and cancellation through our credit cards. We had to use the trip cancellation once when we were in Australia and my step father died. We had no problems getting all our fare and accommodation money reimbursed. So handy to have that.

  8. I am a faithful reader of your blog, but I rarely comment. I live off of Route 311, and your McAfee’s Knob is so close to where I live. I’m embarrassed to say we’ve lived here five years and have yet to take that hike.

    1. It was a lovely hike into McAfee Knob. Plus Hubby ran into a little old man on the path who was collecting wild garlic. They had a great discussion about wild edibles.

  9. Have you tried a SAD lamp? I have had one for years, I never know if its doing any good or not, but still bought myself a new one this year. I recently read Will Dean’s books ‘Dark Pines’ and ‘Red Snow,’ set in northern Sweden and he spoke about people using SAD lamps and vitamin D routinely there.
    I have arthritis and it has badly curtailed my walking so I’m very envious when people talk about going for a walk, particularly as we moved to the south coast of the UK where I planned to do long walks with my dog but now I can’t do any distance at all. My physio has banned pilates classes which I used to go to (she reckons they exacerbate something), so I swim, have just started Zumba Gold, and am circling outside the gym with distaste. I don’t like gyms. I am saving the induction for another day!
    I loved your socks, in fact I love all your outfits so perhaps you could just buy 2 of everything and ship one set to me. I have now ordered myself some spotty socks to brighten up my winter jumper outfits but today is lovely and springlike in the UK and 14 degrees. Its going to revert to normal temperatures tomorrow and 50% likelihood of rain. Again.

    1. I don’t have a SAD lamp, although my sister has tried one. We do however take lots of Vitamin D… a must if you live where we do.
      P.S. Loved that quip about buying 2 of everything. Cheered me right up.

  10. We haven’t had your deep snow, but just enough nuisance snow, freezing rain, tons of plain rain and low enough temps that going outside without squelching doesn’t seem possible. There are no indoor walking areas where I live–35 miles to the nearest mall. A gym membership isn’t the answer…tried that once, but I’m not social by nature and found myself truly irritated by the behavior of many local gym rats (loud, hogging the equipment for long periods of time)–not to mention either loud music or televisions running F#x news–talk about something NOT conducive to health. The only exercise I would accomplish there is running out the door. Ah, well. So I use a walking CD most days–though I admit to turning down the audio because sometimes I just want to smack the perky commentator. Hmm, would that constitute a form of exercise? 🙂

    Here’s hoping winter’s grip loosens it hold on your landscape and mood sooner, rather than later.

    1. I totally get the annoyance at overly perky instructors. Or in my case condescending ones. Too much time at the front of a classroom has made me a terrible student. I guess I’d rather be the one in charge:)

  11. I am SO with you on this. The winter in the Midwest seems endless this year, and the gray and and cold are really amotivational. Not to mention the icy rain intervals which render my walking route dangerous. Ugh. I used an indoor walking track one winter long ago, and it’s not ideal, but better than sitting for sure. My BFF and I used to go when there were not many people there for the very reasons you articulate so well. We also have exercise equipment and I used it faithfully for a few weeks in January, but then the blahs came along. Your post today is motivating me to get on that equipment before I lose the urge. Thanks! 🙂

    1. Hoe exercise equipment has saved my bacon so many times when we literally can’t get out of our driveway. Plus I don’t have to change into heavy coat and boots and drive somewhere. I miss the skating outings with my friends this winter, when the exercise was really only a precursor to going for coffee.

  12. This is the 3rd winter for me as a retired person and the longest winter ever! I do enjoy fitness and get out to a class or the gym at least 3 times a week – except for this winter. I also love to walk through the conservation area in my area. The last 5 weeks seems like an endless cycle of snow, freezing rain/ice pellets, ice, melt, cold and more ice. The most exercise I have been getting is chipping/shovelling ice off the driveway. Having said that the forecasters are predicting spring like weather by the end of March. There is indeed hope.

  13. Oh. I do understand, having lived for a lot of years close to where you live. Ottawa area winters have to be experienced to be believed. This winter, even living on a small island in BC we were not immune to snowy and ice conditions. We do have a rowing machine for the few days that are not really safe for walking. We live in a very hilly area, so my usual walk is really a very strenuous hike. I hear on good authority that spring has been sighted, and will soon be arriving.
    Ali

  14. I used to be a competitive racewalker. If you really want to set a pace to music, try LA Woman (The Doors). I swear, I flew. As for winter motivation, it’s hard. But I know my body stiffens and hurts if I don’t keep moving, so I just keep moving.

  15. First of all I love your new Blog theme. Perfect, fresh, youthful. Love it. You really have snow. I guess I should complain about a little rain, I’ve got the perfect book for you The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. It will make you feel like your in the Caribbean. I could not put the book down.,
    I wish I had your great obsession with exercise. I find any excuse to not exercise. My Applewatch was getting outdoors but after my surgery I just deflated and stayed in the house. So just be so proud of yourself because you want to exercise! Good for you.

  16. I have no tips to give you.
    I’m in Western Australia.
    Humidity has been higher than usual, not used to that.
    When I think of the active life you lead I think I need some inspiration to be more active.
    You have motivated me to get back into weight training.
    Have a lovely day
    Jeanette

    1. Thanks, Jeanette. It’s hard to stay fit in heat and humidity as well as the cold, I find. Good luck with the weight training. I have to be more disciplined with that part of my workout. I find that I can easily sit on my exercise bike reading a book, and then skip the weights afterwards.

  17. For nine months of the year, my exercise on nice days is a two mile walk to the beach and back. But as you say, it can be hard to exercise and keep fit in the depths of winter. I’ve tried the community walking track and zumba lessons, but one is too long a drive and the other charges a fee. This winter, I discovered the perfect (for me) solution – an online exercise video. The video features an animated woman who performs the exercises and counts down the number remaining – no too perky instructor or bad music is involved. Best of all, I can do these exercises any time of the year and any hour of the day.

    1. That sounds like a good solution, Jo. A couple of years ago I started checking out exercise DVDs from the library. If I could find one I liked I think I would have stuck with it.

  18. We have similar winter as in UK this year(as Annie said) and although it is not easy when teperatures go from -1 to +20 in a couple of hours (sorry!)-I prefer it to the song of snow and ice( without fire)
    But couple of last winters were with a lot of snow,followed with ice rain-I hate it
    I’m first in complete denial,than adapt and use the time for reading and indoor walking (we don’t have a walking track,but I see more and more people using shopping centres as well)
    My physio is a combination of streching,pilates and exercises and I really miss it when it’s snowing
    I hope that Stu is completely recovered
    Enjoy your time with your glamorous cyclist
    Dottoressa

    1. Stu is doing well, although two more weeks before he can do anything strenuous. He is chaffing at that. Really misses his skiing. Ha. I had to think twice about the glamorous cyclist comment. Mum will love that.

  19. We have had a more wintery winter this year in Vancouver, but nothing like yours! I agree some days it is very challenging to get motivated. I try but don’t always succeed….
    For something different, I recently signed up for a series of 10 meditation classes. Its not strenuous at all but I thought it would be good as I am very un-zen with a busy mind that’s hard to quiet. Sort of an exercise for a body part of us we don’t always take care of. So far I’m up to 15 minutes which is pretty good for me. Maybe that might be something for you?
    On another note, some comments mentioned vitamin D so here’s a link to an article I read recently (about a 15 minute read) which I found very interesting:
    https://www.outsideonline.com/2380751/sunscreen-sun-exposure-skin-cancer-science
    Enjoy your visit with your Mom, that time is so precious 🙂
    Suz from Vancouver

    1. Thanks, Suz. I’ve tried meditation off and on over the years. Especially when my teacher mind became overloaded. Maybe I should get back to it. Wonder if I can pedal and meditate at the same time. Ha. Vitamin D is a daily thing for both Stu and I and has been for years. I will check out that article, thanks.

  20. I see the need – but – oh how hard – to be motivated to walk round andround (as my current book says) a shopping mall.

    We walked, on the beach, in the sun, no breeze. Was lovely!

    Reading – Will Self – Phone.
    Bit daunting. No chapters. No paragraphs even. You have to cut your reading in slices, like a loaf of bread!

    1. I have the Kindle ap on my phone and use it a lot, sitting in doctor’s offices etc. But I use the phone now for listening to my books from Audible. So easy to download and listen and no complicated transferring like with my i-pod. I agree the round and round is tedious. I couldn’t do it without my books.

  21. Oh my gosh your mother in her turban! I love her!

    And I’ve injured my achilles tendon so zippity do dah on the fitness right now. Boo.

  22. Hello, I hope your travels go well and you and your mum have a great visit. I did not know that about travel insurance and will check ours next time for that clause. We just got back from Australia and New Zealand and it was a great trip, the return home was tough. LONG flights! We walked and hiked so much and it was great. We are below zero temps still and have over 3 feet of snow on the ground so shoveling is our exercise! I am going out to clear our deck in a bit. It has been a long winter as started snowing in October. That is why we get away as we miss being able to be outdoors without the risk of frost bite in 10 minutes. Yes, our gym membership is vital to staying physically and mentally healthy.

    1. Hope you loved New Zealand and Australia as much as we did, Christa. When I went back to work after our first big trip there (3 months… I took an unpaid leave of absence) the school secretary laughed and said, “Only you would go on vacation for three months and come back having lost weight.” Ha. It was all the walking and walking and walking we did.

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