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Keeping fit in frightful weather

This winter, it’s going to be a little more difficult than normal to justify a drop-off in our activity level.

This winter, it’s going to be a little more difficult than normal to justify a drop-off in our activity level.

Why? The Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, of course. We’re going to be continually hearing about our top winter athletes, and well, if they can pursue their dreams day in and day out in the chilly mountain air, or on a rink for hours at a time, then it’ll be harder to convince ourselves that flurries, early nightfall and a cold wind make it impossible for us to walk the dog.

The kind of exercise we get going about daily activities is sometimes referred to as “slice-of-life” activity, and it’s usually the first thing to go when the weather gets frightful.

So instead of, say, walking to work as you would in warmer months, you’d hop on a bus; instead of taking your bike or transit to go shopping, you may be tempted to drive to the mall and fight for the parking spot nearest the entrance; and rather than run errands or stroll to the coffee shop with colleagues on your lunch break, you’ll stay planted at your desk with a mug of instant soup.

All of that activity fall-off tends to happen gradually as the winter progresses, so that if your daily caloric intake stays the same, but your daily activities — however minor you think they are — diminish, the chances that your skinny jeans will still fit come February also diminish.

So before winter really sets in and you fall into a routine, take stock of your current slice-of-life activity each day, determine what you can reasonably keep up all winter (we’re not advocating going for a stroll in skin-freezing temperatures) and what you think may fall by the wayside.

Then, figure out how you’re going to make up for any drop in activity.

Here are a few places to start:

Be creative
• Alright, so everyone knows the tried-and-true suggestion to always take the stairs at your office or apartment building instead of the elevator.

It happens to be a good suggestion, of course, since stair climbing is solid exercise and plenty of us travel up and down many floors in a day to begin with.

In winter, the thing to do is try and extend the stair-climbing policy anywhere else in your day that it fits: You’ll also find staircases at the doctor’s office, when calling on clients and at the department store. (If you take the subway, institute a no-escalators rule in the winter: You’ll be impressed at the number of stairs you can work into a day.

• If you find it’s too cold to do your usual walk to work, and you’re in a downtown core, see if you can be imaginative about changing your route — i.e. cut through a mall or office towers — so you can warm up intermittently.

• If you own a mat and have pals who do yoga or Pilates, arrange to get together at somebody’s place a few times a week and practise.

Be consistent
• Just because slice-of-life activities are minor compared with, say, an hour at the gym, don’t approach them with any less mental resolution: Collectively, they add up. So don’t even think about whether you’re going to climb the stairs when you reach your apartment building after work. Once you’ve even begun the mental debate over doing or not doing, you’re far more likely to go with not doing.

• Get colleagues in on it. Find a partner in crime, or when the usual gang is about to head out to the coffee shop, leave a minute or two early and tell them you’ll meet them downstairs.

• Get a pedometer, and you’ll have an easier time tracking how much you’ve walked in a day.

Be warm
• Time was that staying warm and dry all winter was almost totally incompatible with fashion, but that excuse has long gone.

We all know how much wearing a hat can stave off cold, but not as many of us really appreciate how much having warm, dry feet can take the edge off winter and make us feel like walking an extra block or two.

Luckily, in the last couple of years we’ve seen a blossoming in the availability of good, solid, waterproof rubber boots —something Scandinavians are way ahead of us in appreciating.

Look for a good thick sole with high-traction treads. As for warmth, you can get rubber boots with pile lining or removable fleece linings.

Add insulated sole inserts (the kind with the shiny silver on one side) and the warmest wool socks you can find and far more likely to enjoy being outside.

• Some other options for warm and dry feet include La Canadienne, lacanadienne.ca, a footwear brand that’s made for our countrywomen, so lined, waterproof boots are de rigeur. Finally, venture to Mountain Equipment Co-op, mec.ca, for serious winter boots that range up to warm-enough-for-Baffin-Island models.

Be safe
• Some days, slipping on the ice really is an impediment to anything resembling a walk. An inexpensive way to reduce that potential hazard is to get a pair of STABILicers from Lee Valley, www.leevalley.ca, which can slip over your boots and beef up your traction.

Enjoy winter

OK, OK. We know. For some people, “enjoy” and “winter” have never gone together and probably never will. But here’s some food for thought: Winter in a downtown core or dense suburbia, complete with dark gray slush, semi-frozen puddles and salt-caked roads is nobody’s idea of enjoyable winter surroundings. You need to go where the environs are more inspiring. (No, not Barbados.) If you live near a large park or ravine trails, where snow has half a chance to accumulate and trees or hills obscure your usual view of the city, you’re far more likely to enjoy a winter walk there.

• Try to hang out with creatures who tend to be enthusiastic about winter — kids and dogs are a great start. Make the effort to take nieces and nephews tobogganing or skating, or tag along to the park with a dog-owning friend.

• Try to find low-cost winter sports. If you don’t want to buy a new pair of skates, find a sports exchange store to get a deal on a used pair, or find a rink that rents them. You can also look for places outside the city, such as conservation areas, that will rent snowshoes and cross-country skis.

• If you have trouble summoning up any enthusiasm for winter, try spending some time outside with those who love it: Kids and dogs are a likely bet. Take some nieces and nephews tobogganing, or tag along to the dog park with a friend.

 
 
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