October 9, 2011

Getting fit for winter

It doesn't take membership in a gym to stay active when the weather gets cold and snowy.

By LORI DOUGLAS CLARK, Special to the Maine Sunday Telegram

For three seasons of the year, the Maine outdoors offers countless opportunities to get out and enjoy being active. As the snowy winter months approach, however, it becomes more challenging to maintain a fitness routine, especially for those in the baby boomer years and older.

click image to enlarge

Participants in Julie Waterman’s cardio strength workout class at Cumberland-North Yarmouth Adult Education work on maintaining their balance.

Courtesy photo

And in the midst of the country's still-slumping economy, a gym membership can take an expensive bite out of the budget. As tempting as it is to stay inside on the couch all winter, a little creativity and willingness to think outside the box will yield a wealth of opportunities to stay fit even as the cold winds blow.

"When starting a fitness program, it's important to set small, realistic goals that are attainable, and always check with your doctor first," said Jane Margesson of AARP Maine. "Many activities can be done from home, such as exercise DVDs or walking in place using hand weights. I hear about people playing tennis or bowling with their children and grandchildren on their Wii game system, which is a fun way for the generations to interact."

Margesson added that walking indoors at shopping malls or schools is a safe alternative to icy roads. Many malls or community centers offer maps with measured routes for walkers to track mileage, and often have extended hours for early morning trekkers.

At-home exercise options include DVDs to suit any interest or fitness level, from celebrity workouts to yoga to dance moves to cardio-weight programs with well-known fitness experts. Game systems like Nintendo's Wii make it fun to work up a sweat with a variety of interactive games. Some games to try include Wii Sports and Wii Resort (often included with the game system), My Fitness Coach or Just Dance.

For older exercisers who like to be outside despite frigid temperatures, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing are excellent ways to get fit and explore Maine's winter beauty. In southern Maine alone, there are miles of trails available for Nordic skiing or snowshoeing at no cost or for a nominal fee. In Portland, try Baxter Woods, Capisic Pond Park, Evergreen Cemetery Woods and the Presumpscot River Preserve. A little farther afield, Skyline Farm in North Yarmouth, Gilsland Farm in Falmouth, Pineland Farms in New Gloucester and the Viles Arboretum in Augusta offer diverse environments for skiing or snowshoeing, from rolling fields to birch and pine woods.

Those with good balance and sturdy ankles can find plenty of ice skating venues in the area. Choices range from indoor rinks like the Portland Ice Arena, Biddeford Ice Arena, and the Falmouth Family Ice Center, to outdoor ice skating ponds like Deering Oaks Park, Payson Park and Riverside Snow Park in Portland, Mill Creek Park Pond in South Portland, and Leon Gorman Park in Freeport. Don't forget the hot cocoa!

Just as important as physical activity is staying connected socially during the dark winter days. "Camaraderie is very important for seniors, especially here in Maine with our long winters," AARP's Margesson said. "Keeping in touch with friends and family can keep depression and isolation at bay. Getting out to a class or community center even once or twice a week can be tremendously uplifting."

To stay active, try new activities, meet people, and not spend a fortune in the process, look no further than local adult education or community centers. Classes are conveniently held in just about every community around the state, and instructors keep up with the latest fitness trends.

"We constantly review our program offerings in light of current trends, but we also keep the old favorites our members ask for," said Cumberland-North Yarmouth Adult Education Director Sarah Davis. "Our instructors develop a following within their program, and always modify for different ages and fitness levels."

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