Exercising During the Winter of COVID

The Time to Change Your Thoughts and Your Routine

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Winter traditionally is the time we on the east coast hunker down. We pull out the sweaters, cook soups and stews and confine our movement to walking to the metro, walking the dog (briefly) or walking to the gym. We spend a lot less time in parks, in our gardens, in nature or outside in general. It’s just too cold.

The winter of 2020-2021 is going to be a winter like no other. While exercise is vital for well-being during COVID-19 pandemic, the way we work out will be different. What was routine last year no longer applies.

“People just have to change their mindset and prioritize movement because it is the magic pill,” said Sandy Webster, editor-in-chief at IDEA Fitness Journal. IDEA Health and Fitness Association is the world’s leading organization of fitness and wellness professions. Exercise can help prevent weight gain, reduce stress, improve sleep, improve balance, flexibility and cardiovascular health. “Gear up to get outside. Get a little vitamin D on your face. Walk. Run. Ride a bike. If you are cyclist you can get snow tires for your bike. Go snowshoeing,” she advises.

To get the latest take on what’s happening in fitness this winter I talked with four pros with more than 50 years of cumulative experience among them. They all agreed. It’s a time of great opportunity to reinvent your fitness self. The circumstances require all of us to take a different approach to how we live our lives. Our usual way of working out is out the window. If we don’t work out, our excuse of “being too busy” probably is no longer justified. Now is a great time to adjust our priorities, try something new and be kinder to ourselves.

Outside is ‘In’
“Everyone is taking fitness outdoors. There is so much creativity,” said Patricia Crosby-Tawfik, senior fitness expert who has been a personal trainer for 32 years. “People are exercising in parks, in yards and in parking lots.” Patricia does her cycling classes outside her cycling studio under an awning. The studio takes the bikes inside daily. She said the gym next door has its equipment in the parking lot. It’s open 24/7 so it hired a security guard. When it gets chilly she wears layers or clothes made with Gore-Tex.

Patricia lives in southern California where the temperature does not get below the 50s in the winter. What about those of us where the temperature can drop below freezing?

“I think people can do movement in any type of weather because a lot of people live in all different climates and exercise, said Sandy. “You can’t forget to hydrate even though it’s cold outside. If it gets dark, put on reflective gear. Be safe.”

Flexibility is Key
There will be days that will be too wet, too cold or you are just too tired to go outside. “Those days you punt,” said Sandy. “Do a home workout either on-line, on demand or on a DVD. Be ready to pivot. Change your plan to do a different kind of workout that day. Don’t let little obstacles be the excuse.” You can put on music and dance. If you have a family, involve them. Dive into calorie-burning chores such as vacuuming, cleaning or rearranging furniture.

Dega Schembri, co-owner of Foundation Fitness in Cleveland Park, has found being able to shift focus has helped her exercise class stay vital during COVID. “I like teaching outside. I train my clients outside on the deck of my gym so when we shifted from inside the North Hall at Eastern Market to outside it was just fine.” Dega, who has been teaching her class for 20 years (some participants started at the Supreme Court with Justice O’Conner) said, “It’s the new normal that we are now facing. If you don’t change, you don’t grow. You must be creative and adjust.”

Once the Exception, now the Rule
On-line classes used to be for people who traveled. It was not the preferred method of exercising. Now it has become the common and sometimes the only way you can exercise with your trainer or yoga teacher. On-line workouts are both great and leave a lot to be desired. They certainly are COVID-free, they allow some connection with other exercisers in a class and with an instructor. But, because there is no in-person relationship, it might not be a good time to begin to exercise. The safety and efficacy of any workout is dependent on the correct execution of an exercise or movement and the proper alignment of one’s body. It’s difficult for a trainer or instructor to see and correct what a student is doing during Zoom. If you have good body awareness or if you know instructor and/or are experienced it’s a good way to move.

Jana Lerbach, lifestyle coach and strength trainer in DC, sees the new direction of fitness as exercising at home. “It’s convenient, less expensive, more relaxed, more comfortable, more holistic and less stressful,” she said. “Because we are sitting more working from home, we need to work out now more than ever.” Jana said we don’t need to have equipment. “You can use your body weight, use cans, jugs and towels for resistance.” Jana, who also is a yoga instructor, teaches “Sleepy Yoga’ (I love the name). “You can do it on a couch or a bed. It doesn’t have to be strenuous. You are still moving energy around.” She also does on-line personal training.

Every person has to find his/her own way,” said Sandy. “You want to be comfortable looking at a screen and being aware of your body in space.  So many businesses are struggling right now, not just fitness. I think we will come out of this with a different fitness model – some kind of hybrid.”

The Change Within
While exercise may be the magic pill that keeps you sane during the time of COVID, changing the way you feel about what is happening is the first step to keeping you grounded and staying calm no matter what. This is the perfect time to try going within, learning more about yourself and who you truly are, what you really like and dislike, and becoming aware of the influences that cause you stress and anxiety. Now is the opportunity to experiment with different ways to move and to try something new.

If you’ve not been exercising, this is a good time to start stretching, moving and getting out or your comfort zone in the comfort of your own home. I think our top priority this winter is staying well. Whether it’s outdoors, virtual or in a gym it’s time to figure out where you feel most comfortable working out. Consistent movement in whatever form that feels good and makes you happy is a way to help you thrive.

To contact Dega Schembri email her: [email protected]. To contact Jana Lerbach email her: [email protected]

Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional who has been writing her column for more than 20 years. She focuses on non-traditional ways to stay healthy and get well. Please email her with questions or column suggestions at:[email protected]