Focus on Fitness: When the gyms are shut down, take a hike!

By Gloria Schwartz

This is it. This is the moment to make a commitment to yourself to do what you need to do to maintain and even improve your health in the coming months. The winter blues and the more serious Seasonal Affective Disorder may be exacerbated by the constraints of the pandemic. As the colder weather sets in and the sun sets earlier, getting through the late fall and winter without jeopardizing mental and physical health may prove more challenging than usual.

Many of us are already experiencing common emotional symptoms of the pandemic such as chronic low-grade anxiety and depression, boredom and sleep interruptions. One thing that I find helpful is going for a hike. We’re fortunate to have the Greenbelt in Ottawa, providing many hiking trails. While on a recent one-hour nature walk on the Jack Pine Trail on Moodie Drive, I felt an emotion that I hadn’t experienced in quite some time: joy. All it took was a handful of birdseeds. I’ve never had so many chickadees flying over to me and taking seeds from the palm of my hand. An hour of fresh air, several kilometres of walking and birdwatching along the way made me forget about the pandemic and all of its restrictions.

If you’re able to go outdoors, I urge you to do so. If you’re physically able to go for a hike in the woods, or later in winter perhaps snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, I urge you to do so. Dust off the old snowshoes and skis or purchase some if you can. Maybe you need a pair of hiking shoes. If you are able to invest in some basic equipment that’ll enable you to get out more and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine in the coming months, I urge you to do so. Make a commitment now that you’ll get outdoors on a regular basis between now and spring.

Social isolation is a definite downer. From March until September, I only walked with my husband and sons. I didn’t go on walks with anyone from outside my household. I recently started going with some women for walks. We started an informal walking club because many of us have been feeling isolated and we’re concerned about the emotional toll the ongoing pandemic, coupled with the winter months, may have. Even when outdoors, according to the experts, it’s very important to maintain a minimum six-foot distance from each other. I am very careful about following the guidelines. I also bring a mask with me in case strangers walk past me. It’s been nice having these meetups. We are determined to continue with our weekly walking club even when the weather is cold.

Last week, I met up with one friend and led her on a 30-minute “Gloronacize” session along a park path. I coined that term for a fun, light aerobic form of dance moves I do while walking. You don’t have to be a dancer to do it. I certainly am not a dancer. I played music from my cellphone on a mini speaker. Afterwards, we did some aerobics in a quiet parking lot. We each stood in a parking spot, so we were at a safe distance from each other. There’s a lot you can do outdoors if you are so inclined, and it’s all free. You can also incorporate exercises into your walks, such as the three moves I described last time using a tree (tree sit, push ups and split squats). Enjoy nature, take a moment to appreciate the beautiful surroundings and take a deep breath.