Jim and Shirley Wilcox of Pompey have participated in the YMCA’s monthly Folksmarch for 25 years. They exercise outdoors straight through the winter months. “You’ve got to move to improve,” explains Jim Wilcox of Pompey.
“I look forward to getting outside every day, including the winter,” adds Shirley. “It not only keeps me physically fit but clears the cobwebs out of my brain and improves my mood.”
Her husband agrees: “I feel more relaxed and get invigorated. I used to come home from work ready for the couch but after walking for an hour, I was glad I did.”
Being active can improve your mood, help you get a better quality of sleep and increase blood flow to your whole body, including your brain, which can have a positive effect on memory. Year-round exercise will also benefit overall health by helping to control weight, reduce the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, reduce risk of some cancers, strengthen bones, muscles and joints, and increase your chances of living longer.
“It is extremely important to be physically active throughout our lives,” says Carol Sames, Ph.D., assistant professor in the College of Health Professions, Upstate Medical University, and director of the Vitality Program at the Institute for Human Performance. “Certain seasonal changes may make our activity easier or more challenging but what is important is that we continue to be active. The benefits associated with a regular activity lifestyle are so numerous that if they could be packaged into pill format, we would all be taking such a pill.”
With only 25 percent of U.S. adults achieving the guidelines proposed by the federal government for daily physical activity, it is apparent that as a nation we are suffering from our lack of physical activity. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity (think brisk walking) or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity (such as jogging), preferably spread throughout the week. If you don’t have time for a full workout, try squeezing in a few 10-minute walks throughout the day.
If you want to keep up your New Year’s fitness resolutions or succeed at new ones, Lamas has these solutions. “Don’t come in with big lofty goals. Start with small, achievable goals. Seek the support of an exercise professional at your workout facility and, whenever possible, exercise with a friend, family member or co-worker.”
With the increased awareness and concern about childhood obesity, the YMCA also suggests that families exercise together. “Exercising as a family teaches your children healthy habits by example,” adds Sames. “And look for after-school programs during winter months that include outdoor activity as well as indoor activity. Keeping youth active is vital to their success later in life with adopting healthy lifestyles.”
For individuals who have chronic diseases, disabilities and seniors, the Vitality Program at the Institute for Human Performance, 505 Irving Ave., offers aquatic and traditional exercise programs. Following a personal health assessment and physician approval, “We develop an exercise program that is safe and effective while providing a nurturing environment,” says Sames. Even with health limitations, you can discover a way to get on the path to increased physical activity and wellness.
For families and individuals, Central New York offers a wide range of exercise options, indoors and out. Look into programs that fit your needs and interests. Fitness can and should be fun. Winter can provide opportunities to try new types of activities like joining a yoga, zumba or dancing class. Consider participating in workplace wellness programs, joining an indoor basketball or volleyball league or visiting local parks for outdoor exercise and fun family activities.
“Dressing in layers and paying attention to wind chill and wind direction is always a good idea if you are active outdoors,” suggests Sames. “There are precautions to be observed in Central New York winters that include darkness, slippery sidewalks, roads and cold. But for every barrier set up by the weather, there is a creative solution to combat it.”
Every day, if weather permits, you will find walkers, runners and cross-country skiers on the lakeside trails at Onondaga Lake Park in Liverpool. Beaver Lake Nature Center, 8477 E. Mud Lake Road, Baldwinsville, offers winding trails through the woods, meadows and lakeshore that are designed to be enjoyed in all seasons.
Cross-country ski and snowshoe trails are pristine white wonderlands just waiting to be explored, depending on snow cover. Saturday, Feb. 25, is the Cross Country Ski Festival at Highland Forest, 1254 Highland Forest Road, Fabius, with ski games, snow sculptures, orienteering, sleigh rides and more. In Fayetteville, the Green Lakes State Park golf course is perfect for snowshoeing and 10 miles of trails are open to skiers.
The Folksmarch is a non-competitive walking event conducted monthly for people of all ages and abilities. Folksmarches, with 5K, 10K and shorter routes, are generally held on the second weekend every month. For a change of pace, the next Folksmarch will be held indoors at Driver’s Village, 5885 E. Circle Drive, Cicero. Participants can walk any time between 8 and 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, and from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12. The March walk will be held at Ryder Park, along the Erie Canal in DeWitt.
Jim Wilcox touts the benefits of his physical activity: “Exercise helped reduce my blood pressure, cholesterol and tension. Walking outdoors provides time to forget everything but walking and what you are seeing and hearing. I love to look closely at the plants, trees, insects, and birds, then go home and look them up. Experiencing is the best way to learn.”
Joanne Engelhardt of East Syracuse has walked in the Folksmarch for 13 years. “There’s something about being outside exercising. The air is clean, the trees are beautiful and it’s quiet. We have great winters in Central New York and it’s a shame not to enjoy them. I think everyone should try to get out more in the winter. With the right gear you won’t get cold and it will make you feel great.”
Find a fitness plan that works for you and enjoy the winter.
Exercise, in its many forms, is key to wellness in every season of the
Marnie Blount-Gowan is a member of the Crouse Hospital Integrative Health Alliance, which advocates mind-body health awareness, and editor of Realewell.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.