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Staying Active and Well in the Wintertime pt. 1

The days grow shorter, and the nights feel longer. The temperatures go into the negatives, and with that comes the feeling that we would all rather not move and conserve our energies (and heat!) inside a mountain of blankets. But we should stay active, and well when winter comes around on the calendar.

These thoughts in mind we sat down with our Population Health Director Tom Holt to get some helpful advice, strategies, and tips on staying well when the air gets cold. The first thing to do? Weigh your options for taking your activity indoors for a few months. Some may be surprised at what all Douglas has to offer in that arena.

"You want to keep flexible, keep moving, so increased flexibility, but then also focus on your core strength. I always tell people that yoga, or pilates, is strength training. It's not weightlifting, but it is strength training," stated Holt. Reflecting on what options are available in our town he listed several ways to get in movement: "We have yoga studios here, and you could certainly go to a gym. And you don't have to have a formal yoga instructor to do those types of things. Of course, if you go to some of the gyms, you could go to the Rec Center, you could go to Peak Fitness, there would be an opportunity to have an indoor walking track so that you could walk inside."

Finding places and spaces can be a challenge when looking at increasing or maintaining your activity levels. But sometimes you don't need to look any further than your living room. "Stationary bikes are an option for people. I know the treadmill gets to be tedious or it gets old. But what I like about stationary bikes is that your head's not going up and down. So it's easier to read. So especially the recumbent bikes where you're sitting down. You could read something, look at a magazine. If it's at the gym, you could watch the TV, you could listen to a podcast, or you could listen to your favorite music, a book on tape, on your iPad or your phone."

Something to watch out for in the scope of wintertime, you tend to get more rigid from all the sitting around you inevitably will do. Adding in stretches, movement, even resistance to strengthen your muscles and keep them limber helps your body overall. "The thing too, I like to say, "Why would strengthening your core and doing yoga be important?" Well, if we're sitting more, then our hamstrings get tight and then at the same time we're sitting more, and our hamstrings get tight, and maybe our stomach muscles aren't as strong. And that means that people have a lot of lower back pain when you sit a lot. So if you get up and walk around periodically, and then also that's why I add stretching to the mix to help strengthen those core muscles."

Leaving the television to just watch without fast forwarding through commercials is a good idea, you can even see how many of a particular type of activity you can get in during the breaks. Even during a Netflix or Hulu binge session, you can get in ample movement if planned right, there are plenty of specific show workouts that pick up on the story caveats the writers write into every episode. For example, the classic comedy The Office has it's own litany of at home activity workouts for those who binge the comedy. Ranging from doing ten squats each time Jim looks at the camera to five jumping jacks each time Michael Scott gets a solo interview. You get the idea. And if you have a particular favorite show that you like to binge, chances are someone out there has found a way to make you more active while watching!

"There are tons of at home workouts. So what I do, you can look on Pinterest is probably the easiest way to find at home workouts, which range from beginner to advanced with weights, without weights. You can always do a workout even if you don't have weights." You don't have to break the bank on new equipment for adding weight or resistance. Even adding an orange to your hand can add some resistance. Another option? Resistance bands. "I like Dyna-Bands, so you can either have the rubber tubing with the handles on it, or the rubber tubing that you tie knots on the ends. And you could have some resistance and do all kinds of workouts. The other thing is, it's a band, so it's a big wide strip of rubber." Body resistance stretches like those found in tai chi, pilates, yoga can surely help different muscle groups and keep you from "shrimping up" during the winter.

Even though getting in your activity inside is important, we all eventually have to venture outdoors. And there is equipment to help you achieve a walk around the block with ease. "I think people think that, 'Well I can't go outside because it's slick. I might fall," that kind of thing. There's a company called Yaktrax. And you can get the full foot coverage style, it's like a rubber thing that goes over your shoe, and it has the coils on it, and when you transition from snow to ice back to concrete or asphalt, it keeps you from falling. So even if you're walking and you go from a shoveled sidewalk to one that's not and back to another one, that can at least, you can get outside."

Light, or the lack thereof, can be a problem for some during the winter months. Our natural instinct to hibernate and only come out when the sun is firmly in the sky is a struggle. But overcoming that internal struggle brings up a whole host of other safety concerns. "I know with less light, people's schedules still have a workout after work. Well if it gets dark at 4:30 and you don't get off work until 5, then it's going to be dark, it's dark and cold. So I do a couple of things. One, layering. So I have a lot of light, breathable layers. The second thing is visibility because cars can't see you and you're going on and off the sidewalk." With most workout clothes designed these days in the standard charcoal or black index, visibility for those trying to be active can be a concern. "you can get the reflector straps on your arms or the flat, that kind of thing. So layering, visibility, and shoe traction are the outdoor running, walking type things that I recommend."

As you can see, there is a relatively easy workaround for most any workout method we want to achieve, even if it just takes some forethought on our part. At some point, though in our winter in Wyoming there will be an activity we can't avoid snow shoveling. And with snow shoveling comes a few added health concerns, particularly if we've been sedentary for a few months with limited activity levels. "I think some people think that shoveling snow, that is a wonderful workout, but you always hear a lot of times people have heart attacks or throw out or hurt their back. If the snow is wet and heavy it can be an added resistance, but one we should approach with caution." (For more on safe shoveling techniques, click here.)

Getting outside doesn't have to be restricted to just a quick jog or walk. Mother nature and the great landscapes at our doors give us each ample opportunity to get in some activity in the snow. "I love snowshoeing so snowshoeing's obviously an option for some people. Cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowboarding, those are all physically active type things that would be fun outside. This one, not very many people have it, but fat tire bikes are kind of getting more popular that you can ride on snow."

Stay tuned for part two of this interview where we delve into how mood, endorphins, and nutrition can all be aided in the good ol' wintertime! Have comments about what has worked for you? Let us know in the comments section of our Facebook post!