Advice: Get outdoors so winter won't winby Suzanne Pekow, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Waking up to a Minnesota winter weather forecast can make you want to hibernate. Every year about this time, I start to dream about warmer climates; places where "wind chill" is not in the vocabulary.
But I'm here in Minnesota, and I'm determined to find a way to enjoy winter because it can last a very long time.
So, I decided track down some of those chipper folks who actually enjoy being outside on some of the coldest days of the year.
It's about 8 degrees when I join Chris Wright at the Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, on his daily walk. Every so often the wind whips around to bring frozen tears that make my cheeks numb. Chris doesn't seem to notice; he's 70 years old and strong. He's not wearing any high-tech sports gear, but he's dressed warmly in ordinary trousers and several layers of wool.
Chris spends a lot of time outdoors, and he has a good reason to.
"I started exercising seriously after a cardiac arrest," Wright said. "I collapsed, Dr. Zhivago-style, getting off a bus. And the first thing I remember was waking up with a strange cardiologist asking me if I knew where I was."
Chris's doctors told him he had a choice -- between regular exercise and death. He chose exercise.
He works out sometimes seven days a week, whether it's walking or cross-country skiing in the winter, or biking around the lakes in the summer. He also practices Tai chi, but don't try to drag him to a gym.
"The treadmill is devastatingly boring. So outdoors is my choice; I love being outdoors," he said.
Even on days like the day I'm walking with him, it starts to sleet as we finish our walk but I'm dressed in so many layers that I decide to take another lap around the lake -- running. It's not very fun, now that I'm by myself.
So a couple nights later, I join up with a group from the Running Room in Uptown. It's even colder but these folks are smiling as they run, even though the temperature is below freezing.
I learned that this apparent "runner's high" is not limited to just runners. The people I met, while being active in the cold, seemed genuinely more cheerful than people who tend to stay inside all winter.
Take Cynthia McArthur from St. Paul. We went out snowshoeing in Crosby Farms Park, along the Mississippi River.
"It's a beautiful, sunny winter day -- a little cold, but not too bad," McArthur noted.
Not too bad means 5 degrees, with a wind chill of 4 below zero. My feet are aching and my fingers are numb. But I give it a chance.
"I feel kind of normal when I can just go out and enjoy the winter," McArthur said. "We're out here right now and it's cold. And yet, it isn't that bad. But it is kind of a mindset. It's like, winter's here, there's dark days, it's cold, but when you can design something in your life that you enjoy doing, it makes it a lot nicer, and you even look forward to it."
If someone like Cynthia, who I found out struggles with chronic fatigue syndrome, can be this optimistic on that cold of a day, then perhaps the key to enjoying winter is finding something about it you can enjoy.
Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist I went to visit at the Mayo Clinic, is in the business of helping people become less sedentary.
"We encourage folk not so much to be active in the sort of rather pejorative, 'go to the gym' way, but much more in the sense of that if you're up and moving, you're going to be having a good time, you're going be having fun," Levine said.
And, you're going to be healthier. Levine's research shows if you're active, you'll be happier, and if you're happier, you'll be more active.
"It always starts with an attitude of mind," he said. "If you decide for the next hour that you're going to have a really good time, the first step in having a really good time, is to decide it."
I guess when it comes down to it, deciding to do stuff outside is the only way to not let winter win; and that means preparing mentally and physically.
For me, that means psyching myself up to go outside, bundling up and knowing that if I can survive the first 10 minutes of a walk in the cold, I'll actually start to enjoy it. And that, I've discovered, is what it's all about.