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Fitness | KATHY SMITH

Autumn Can Have a Chilling Effect on Exercise Routines

September 21, 1998|KATHY SMITH

As Ecclesiastes (and the Byrds) told us, everything has a season. And the season to exercise is summer, a time when we want to look good wearing bathing suits or more revealing clothes.

But now autumn is upon us, which means shorter days, longer nights, colder mornings--and about a thousand more errands to do, particularly if you have kids involved in extracurricular activities like soccer. Put them all together and you end up with a pretty long list of excuses to stop exercising until next summer. How many of us, after all, really want to roll out of a warm bed into the cold air for a walk or a jog or a bike ride before work? And who among us doesn't find it easier, when it's dark out, to go straight home from work instead of walking or jogging or riding?

Every year it's the same dilemma: the fewer hours of daylight there are and the lower the temperature outside, the less likely we are to get all the exercise we need. While there are, of course, regional exceptions (people who live in, say, Phoenix are probably more physically active in winter) and personal exceptions (I have a friend who revels in cold weather), this is a fact that we have to deal with constructively if we're committed to living a healthy life.

Reducing our risk factors for diseases requires that we accumulate at least 30 minutes of activity a day, five or six days a week. And if weight loss is the goal, the more minutes of activity accumulated, the more calories burned.

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One terrific, calorie-burning alternative to the dark skies and cold air of the outdoors is, of course, a gym. If you're already a member, you know the benefits (among them, the motivation that comes from working out with other like-minded people). If you're not a member, maybe it's because you once had a bad experience at a health club. I would hope, however, that that experience does not keep you from taking a second look at your local club.

Unfortunately, clubs aren't feasible for everyone. But programs and classes given through the local parks and recreation department may be. I know many people who've absolutely loved these park programs, everything from aerobics to stretching and swimming.

You might also consider purchasing some indoor equipment for at home, like a treadmill or free weights. Cheaper and less space-consuming than ever, home machines and weights are a great way to get a good workout no matter the weather or time. As a substitute for, or complement to, sports clubs, they eliminate the headache of having to go somewhere else to exercise; in bad weather particularly you lose one of the most compelling excuses not to exercise.

If you already own a home apparatus but use it more to drape clothes on than to exercise, this is the time to dust that old thing off, crank up your favorite tunes and sweat away. Then write down working out on your schedule, like an appointment, so you can establish a regular regime that prevents the equipment from becoming a clothes tree.

If, for whatever reason, home equipment is impossible, you might then consider buying some exercise videos. Produced on a range of topics from simple aerobics to yoga to kick-boxing to weight-training, they can lead you through a full and satisfying workout right in front of your television. Those with tight schedules can count on the routine lasting exactly the same amount of time every session; many of them can be completed in 20 minutes.

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Of course, all of these suggestions have to do with classic/traditional workouts. There are yet other ways to burn calories that don't require a leotard, a club membership, or a VCR. For example, think about cleaning your house. Fact is, if you clean your house vigorously--dusting, vacuuming, washing floors--you're burning about 60 calories in 15 minutes, which means that you can burn up to 800 calories in just a few hours of doing what you probably have to do anyway.

How about shopping? Try speed walking through a mall or on a great shopping street, looking through windows as you pass before you actually go back to buy. Depending on your pace, you can burn from 200 to 600 calories in an hour without even thinking of it as exercise.

The point is that not all exercise looks like exercise. In fact, exercise comes in three forms--formal, functional and fun.

Formal exercise you know: jogging, aerobics classes, weight lifting, etc.

Functional exercises are activities like gardening, cleaning house, parking a little farther away from work and walking.

Fun exercise includes those activities you actually like doing for recreation: tennis, dancing, mountain biking, softball--anything that gets you to play.

I mention these because your daily 30 minutes of exercise do not necessarily have to fall into the formal category; they may be mixed among the three groups.

I know what you're thinking: "This woman is relentless." And you know what? You're right, I am. I want you to realize that working out is too important to our health and well-being to be subject to the caprices of weather and darkness. While summer may be the season to exercise, fall shouldn't be the season to make excuses.

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Copyright 1998 by Kathy Smith

* Kathy Smith's fitness column appears weekly in Health. Reader questions are welcome and can be sent to Kathy Smith, Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. If your question is selected, you will receive a free copy of her book "Getting Better All the Time." Please include your name, address and a daytime phone number with your question.

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