The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

January 8, 2014

Take charge! Live well — Facing the challenge of exercising during cold weather

By Linda Stein
For The Fayette Tribune

— A half an hour of exercise, three times a week, can dramatically lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Research tells us so. That’s really important to me personally. To make it plain: I want to lower my own risk, so I try hard to maintain physical activity.

During the week I walk on the White Oak Trail in late afternoon with my friend Aletha. We see people of all ages and sizes on that trail. I also ride my bike in warm weather and go to the Forever Fit Class at Active Fitness once or twice a week.

However, when the time changes every fall, dark and cold bring much of that to a grinding halt! This year when we had a cold snap in mid-October, I panicked and thought, “Oh no, this is going to be a long winter!”  

Several days later sitting at my desk at New River Health Center I noticed with dismay that my “Physical Activity Log” had some stretches of empty blocks; not a good sign. At New River, as part of our wellness program, employees fill out a physical fitness log. It’s basically a calendar where we write down how much exercise we get every day, a block for each day. I like it. It makes me feel good to look at the calendar and see lots of blocks filled in.

It occurred to me that maybe filling in the blocks or my fear of not filling in the blocks could get me going in cold weather. I did a little checking and found that, in September, 60 New River employees filled in their logs. They averaged 7.35 hours of exercise for that month.

I decided to ask people about their logs and about their physical activity. I thought I might learn some things that could help me and others be active through the winter.

I regularly see Dana Treadway out on our walking trail at lunch time, walking and talking on her cell phone. So I went down the hall to her office and asked if she fills out a log. She sure does. She says she likes to check the boxes. “Look! I exercised and I can prove it! I walk so I can lower my blood pressure. Walking relieves stress for me.” When it’s dark and cold, she moves her activity inside and uses her elliptical trainer.

Further down the hall, Yvonne Mims said her physical activity calendar hangs on her wall next to her desk to remind her to do 30 minutes of exercise a day. “Getting regular exercise helps me be stronger and maintain a healthy weight.”

At New River, as part of the wellness program, we get tokens for the hours we exercise, and we can use them to lower the cost of medication. Dana Treadway said she uses hers to pay for her blood pressure medication, for instance. Not all of us can get tokens for our efforts, but we can get the reward of shedding a few pounds, reducing stress, feeling good about ourselves, and lowering disease risk.

Across the waiting room, I found Donna Murray in referrals. She said she used to walk around the track at work but she stopped. “I don’t have anyone to walk with.” If she could find a partner for walking, she’d keep going, she said.

Back in my office, I called my friend Pat Samargo who used to work at New River. We used to walk together. She said she still walks, even though she no longer gets tokens. “It’s a challenge. I’m not going to let the weather dictate to me. I do multiple layers of clothing. I need to start keeping a log again. I need to look at it and see if I have exercised. I like using a pedometer to see how far I’ve gone so I don’t give up before time.”

So I learned a lot! Some people see the log as a simple calendar page that reminds them to get active and proves they did something. Donna Murray reminded me that having a partner is helpful. I can testify that bundling up in layers in cold weather can make a big difference. Pat Samargo swears that wearing a pedometer to show time and distance can be motivating.

“Okay,” I told myself, “I can do this. I know how to dress. I have a friend who will meet me. I know that soon I’ll think that when the temperature’s in the high 30s, it isn’t even cold!”

But if it’s really cold, as it has been this week, I have an alternative plan. I could walk the inside perimeter of a big store or I could put on the radio and set my oven timer and walk back and forth from my kitchen sink to the front door. Walking as little as 15 minutes after each meal helps reduce risk for diabetes and heart disease. That’s the main point.

Oh, and I can put my exercise calendar where I will notice it. I really do like to see those blocks filled in.

(Stein is a social worker at New River Health in Fayette County. She works with patients in group and individual sessions to help patients prevent diabetes or manage well if they do have diabetes. For more information about services offered at New River Health, go to or call Linda at 304-465-2032.)