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Life has really changed at my house.  It seems like yesterday I was bundling up to walk Bandy in the frigid darkness and writing about winter walking.  Instead, summer came early at my house.  We’ve had temperatures in the 80’s for the past couple of weeks.  I’m looking forward to the return of normal temperatures in the 70’s for the next few days.  And, unlike last year, it has been sunny and dry. 

We’ve had the perfect weather to tackle outside projects around the house and yard and I’ve been working like crazy.  So far this year I have weeded all the flower beds and painted 2 sides of my foundation.  (I’m on the 20 year plan with this foundation painting.  I figure if my house could go the first 50 years with a bare foundation then I didn’t have to be in too much of a hurry.  I did the first side about 11 years ago.  Now, I only have the back side of the house to go.  Maybe if this weather holds out I can get that done before the mosquitoes invade my yard.  If not, I have about 8 years to meet my personal deadline J). 

I would guess in the last 3 weeks I have spent about 20 hours bending over, bending down, pulling, twisting, bending up, bending down, and pushing.  It was tricky trying to paint from the ground up while standing in a bed of irises about to bloom.  I felt like I was playing twister!

And you know what?  I’ve not had one sore muscle…not in my legs or arms or back or neck.  I found this a little curious because I remember last year once the rain stopped and I could get out in the garden, I was uncomfortable pulling weeds and digging and planting.  I remember my knees hurting and my back aching.  I had to lean my knees on a padded pillowy thing for goodness sake.  I remember thinking if this is how I feel at 42 how will I ever garden when I’m 50 or 60.  

I’ve spent some time thinking these past few weeks as to why I haven’t had any discomfort or pain this year.  There has to be a reason, right? 

I’ve come up with two possibilities…qigong and walking.  

Qigong is “a form of traditional Chinese mind/body exercise and meditation that uses slow and precise body movements with controlled breathing and mental focusing to improve balance, flexibility, muscle strength and overall health.”  

As you may know from reading Is Walking Enough (Part 2), I’ve been doing a short qigong routine for about 9 months now.  It took me a few weeks to get the hang of it and remember the sequence without referring to the pictures.  This qigong sequence of 6 movements seems to stretch most, if not all, of the major muscle groups.  I do these stretches every morning.  It feels great and it doesn’t take a lot of time to complete – about 12 minutes.  Doing these stretches every day has increased my normal range of motion and has increased my overall flexibility.  It is nothing now to bend down and reach and stretch because my body has been training to do this daily through qigong!  

I also think that walking soon after finishing these tasks helped my body recover quickly.  Like taking a hot shower after exerting yourself, I think that walking soon after my tasks gave my allowed my body to move and stretch and stop the soreness or stiffness that might have occurred had I just sat down and watched TV after I finished working.

Have you been working hard in the yard or house, playing tennis, running or riding your bike after a winter of little activity?  Are you calling on your body to move more than normal now that the weather begs for outdoor activities?  Have you noticed stiffness or soreness and wish you had a way to minimize these side effects of the weekend warrior?  If you want to prevent post-warrior pain and soreness, give qigong and walking a chance…a hot shower won’t hurt either.

What home projects or fitness activities have you been working on or have planned for the Spring?  Do you ever feel sore or pain from your work or fun?  Let us read all about it in the comments.

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Imagine stepping out your door, the sun is shining, big billowy clouds are casting playful shadows, a slight breeze blows and the temperature is a perfect 72.  On a day like this it’s not hard to get motivated to go outside and walk.  Once outside in the perfect sunshine your walk is effortless and enjoyable and you walk longer than you planned. 

Back to reality….like last week’s record breaking cold snap which submersed half of the country into bitter cold.  At my house last weekend the high temperature averaged 23 degrees.  Since the average high in January is a bearable 45 degrees, a high of 23 degrees is COLD!  Despite the cold and despite my threats to the contrary I managed to forego the shuttle and walk 8 minutes uphill from the parking lot to the office and, of course, I walked the dog – she even got an extra long walk on Sunday when it warmed up to a balmy 27 degrees.

Even though it is easier and certainly warmer to take a shuttle or to stay inside on a cold winter’s day, the next time you are tempted to avoid winter’s cold, grab your walking shoes instead and you will be rewarded.  Believe it or not, winter is one of the best times to walk outdoors. 

Winter Walking 

Why is winter one of the best times to walk outdoors? 

Walking outside in winter is peaceful.  There are so fewer people on the trails, sidewalks and public spaces that you often feel like you have the space all to yourself.   It is quiet.  You will notice the quiet in the park, in your neighborhood, on the sidewalks, almost everywhere…so many people avoid going outside that it offers the ones who do a tranquility that is missing during the rest of the year.  

Walking outside in winter gives you a different perspective on nature.  You will see a very different view of the landscape now that the trees are free from leaves and the ground is free from brush and sometimes covered with snow.  You will notice that on a sunny day the sunshine is brilliant and the sky is a deeper shade of blue.  If you are lucky enough to walk at dawn or dusk you will see the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets showcasing beautiful shades of pinks, purples, oranges and reds.  Amazing. 

Walking outside in winter gives you a breath of fresh air.  We stay cooped up during the winter with our windows shut tight.  Oftentimes the only fresh air we get is walking from the parking lot to a store or office.  Walking in winter will give you a big dose of fresh air and this winter air is healthier for you than the stagnant, ozone-laced air of summer.  Take in a deep breath and breathe.

Walking outside during winter keeps you away from the crowded track at the gym or community center.  Many of us start or renew our fitness goals with the New Year – we shouldn’t let weather be a barrier to reaching our goals.  A lot of daily walkers will tell you that walking outside on a cold winter’s day can be done almost every day.

Walking outside during winter will expose you to sunlight and that can help if you are prone to seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  SAD is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year – most frequently in the fall and winter months when we are exposed to less sunlight.  Experts recommend treatments such as going outside and exercising as much as possible during fall and winter if your symptoms are not severe. 

Keep a Routine

It’s not always easy to motivate yourself to go outside in the cold, and sometimes dark, to walk.  One way to tackle this is to keep a routine from which you rarely deviate.  For instance, walk before work with a neighborhood friend, walk outside during your lunch break or walk as soon as you get home from work before you do anything else.  On those days when your motivation is low just tell yourself you will walk for at least 10 minutes and then you can stop whenever you want.  Most of the time you will continue to walk through your normal routine even though you have given yourself permission to stop early.

Another idea is to establish a shorter outside walking routine during the dead of winter…maybe 15- 30 minutes depending on the temperature….sometimes the most important thing is to just keep up the routine and get out there even if it is for a shorter amount of time.  Be sure to take advantage of warmer days, especially during the weekend, when you can schedule a longer walk to help make up for your shorter daily routine. 

Be Careful

You should be especially careful walking outside during the cold months of the year. 

  • Cold is relative.  Don’t try to walk outside if it is dangerously cold for you.
  • Wear a hat, gloves, scarf, wool socks and extra layers designed for cold weather.  You can always take items off if you warm up. 
  • Wear appropriate footwear for snow and ice.
  • If you walk in the dark or low light, walk in lighted areas, wear a reflective piece and keep a small flashlight in your pocket.
  • Walk in familiar and safe areas.  Stay aware of your surroundings.  Bring your cell phone.
  • Always drink water to stay hydrated.           

Give it a Try 

If you are tempted to let the cold keep you inside, bundle up instead and give winter walking a try.  Discover how enjoyable winter walking can be.  If you start an outside walking routine now, you will feel a remarkable sense of accomplishment and personal triumph every day that you conquer winter’s cold.  And just think how easy it will be to walk outside in a few short months when the weather is perfect.

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