by Tess Adair
Here’s a pretty solid piece of advice: survive the winter one dance class at a time.
I’m always afraid of the winter sads, more widely known as seasonal affective disorder. As I’ve written about before on the blog, I have a history of dealing with depressive episodes, so I’m always on the lookout for potential mood pitfalls.
A lot of people make a big deal about seasonal affective disorder, but to be honest, I’m still not sure if it affects me that much. Yes, I have depressive episodes, and some of them coincide with winter months--but at least as many coincide with the summer. In fact, sometimes I think summer is worse. I feel lethargic in the heat, and lethargy bums me the hell out.
Personally, I think one of the big reasons that winters don’t depress me that much is that, perhaps ironically, I feel much more motivated to work out in the winter.
Full disclosure: I currently live in Seattle, which has incredibly long but incredibly mild winters. The sky turns gray in early October and stays that way through March, with only occasional exceptions, and it does rain quite a lot. But in the 3 years I’ve lived here, I’ve only seen two days with snow, and I’ve never yet had a reason to replace the heavy winter coat I gave to Goodwill after I dropped over 70 pounds. Back in Connecticut, mind you, winters were both long and harsh. I would routinely call my mom in St. Louis to inform her that there is no way the pilgrims actually survived entire winters in New England so history was a lie.
The Stranger published a nice little guide for recent transplants about places to go that will help you survive the SAD a winter in Seattle might cause. These suggestions include an indoor pool, a Russian bath house, the heated butterfly house downtown.
These are all lovely suggestions (and actually, saunas can apparently stimulate human growth hormone, so they can be one way to prevent muscle atrophy if you can’t actually work out for a period of time.) But the primary logic behind the suggestions is the idea of chasing instant gratification and artificial heat.
I would say that a much more important motivation should be movement.
A lot of The Stranger’s ideas will happen to get you moving, so that’s good. Personally, I am definitely thinking about checking out the boozy indoor pool--my BFF in Canada took me swimming the last time I visited her, and it reminded me that swimming is a fun way to get in some cardio (and work up a sizable appetite, which we filled with some awesome stir-fry and cupcakes later, courtesy of her uxorially blessed beau.)
But I’m also going to be making sure I get in other kinds of cardio activity. I just started taking a new dance class, taught by one of my former pole dance instructors. It’s hip hop, which is a bit new for me, but I’m enamored of this particular teacher’s style, and apparently I’ve been doing enough cardio on my own that I can already keep up as well as I could hope.
When the weather is nice out, I like to go for walks when I can. I used to run, but man, running is killer on my knees, and it seems to really put a damper on my flexibility (trying to get my splits but I’m still at least four inches off the ground on a good day.) So I go for walks when it’s nice out, and when I get back, I try to do a little bit of in-place higher intensity cardio (jumping jacks, mountain runners, burpees) before pushing some upper-body strength training.
But it’s not often nice out in Seattle, and even when I do walk, sometimes I feel like I haven’t pushed myself quite hard enough.
Fortunately for me, the challenge of getting in enough cardio every week got a whole lot easier once my momsie surprised me with my very own mini-elliptical over a month ago.
The elliptical has two distinct advantages. First, it’s indoors--so if it’s too cold or too rainy outside, I can still work up a sweat. (Or if I’m having an insanely hard time motivating myself, I can just plop myself in front of the television and start mindlessly moving my feet on it, requiring myself to last at least an entire episode, and hope that the forced movement will get me going. It usually works.)
The second advantage of the elliptical is that it’s a bit lower impact on your joints. Your feet aren’t pounding into pavement, sending shockwaves up your bones. This means that the prospect of really pushing yourself becomes a little less daunting.
I’ve been using the elliptical almost every day. It’s a little...stale, yeah. It’s not the most exciting of routines--here, move your feet in little circles while you mindlessly consume some media!
But it does the trick.
The dance class I just started was hard, but I was ready for it.
I moved in ways my body was not entirely accustomed to, but because I’d kept my engine running with the elliptical, my body responded beautifully to the extra push. I felt energized by the end of class instead of exhausted.
I felt like it might as well be summer.
Of course, I think the elliptical and the class are equally important to this mood-and-body maintenance I’m doing. The elliptical keeps the blood flowing, but it’s a little like idling an engine. My body keeps working and moving as it should, but without a little excitement, my mood and will would slowly deteriorate over time.
So you have to throw in something fun. Insert dance class. Stretch hips and show some attitude.
And, hey, if there’s an indoor pool near you with an adjacent bar, that also sounds like a mighty fine idea.
Nope, not what I meant.