The exerciser in me always dreads fall: shorter days and cooler nights. With summer and warmer weather behind us, the plentiful opportunities to exercise appear to dwindle and, like many people, I start to let my good habits slip.
I found inspiration recently in a patient I'll call Jack, a 53-year-old schoolteacher. When Jack came in for a visit, he said the school year, combined with bad weather and short days, makes exercise a bit of a chore. Determined to not let a little rain disrupt the progress he made, Jack bought a florescent vest to wear while jogging and shifted his schedule a little at home.
While the fall season doesn't lend itself to exercise as much as the summer months do, it's a good opportunity to try new things and adjust our routines.
We know exercise is good for us. A simple activity such as walking can assist the heart in pumping blood by as much as 25 percent. Moving our legs keeps blood flowing and means fewer blood clots. Exercise also improves muscle tone and cuts fat, hypertension and diabetes.
And during the fall -- when gloomy weather can depress moods -- exercise can stimulate endorphins and brighten the day. But knowing is different from doing -- and balancing life, work and exercise is tricky.
Jack was on the right track with his florescent vest, yet there's more to consider if you're planning to exercise outdoors during the fall and winter.
First, dress in layers so you can adjust as needed. Heavy clothing can lead to overheating, and underdressing can lead to injury. Second, check your shoes. If they lost tread during the summer, you'll want to replace them to avoid slipping on slick or wet surfaces.
Third, start your workouts with a warm up. Cold temperatures cause tight muscles and injuries. Finally, drink lots of fluids.
If the thought of running through the morning chill doesn't appeal to you or if the risks outweigh the benefits, try a new activity. Malls and shopping centers are great places to go for brisk walks while staying warm and getting out of the house.
You can also join a health club or get exercise videos from the local library. If you have the space, consider building a home gym. For under $50, you can get a jump rope, exercise ball and a small set of weights.
No matter what you choose, try to get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. You can divide that up however you like.
As a mentor of mine said, life isn't a race to the finish. He taught me that the trick is to enjoy the ride, or the run, as the case may be. Look at the trees, enjoy the cold rain in your face, and embrace a few hills, knowing the downhill is on the other side.
So consider adapting your life and your schedule to work in healthy habits.
Are you willing to risk addiction to exercise? Risk becoming inspired? Consider joining Jack in the challenge and burn down some of those extra holiday calories, and above all -- have fun.
David R. Pepper M.D. is the series editor for Healthy Outlook, written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. He can be reached at email@example.com. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.