Don't sit, get fit — important to stay active in the winter

Don't sit, get fit — important to stay active in the winter

According to a former acting U.S. surgeon general, it is vital to participate in physical activity despite the winter weather.


Physical activity is an effective method of reducing stress and anxiety. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it also comes with the added benefit of improving overall health. It also may help reduce the risk of many chronic illnesses.

Outdoor activity in the winter is brutal. Cold temperatures and shorter days make many people want to stay indoors rather than face the elements and go on a brisk walk or hike. And many people are shunning the gym due to the ongoing worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

But according to former acting U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu, it is vital to participate in physical activity despite the winter weather.

“There are studies that indicate that as little as 20 minutes of exercise or activity does pump up the immune system,” Moritsugu said via a phone call recently. “So that is all the more reason why — during this period of COVID-19 and when we are out of it — we need to maintain physical activity and exercise.”

Moritsugu recommends conducting some research to get the most out of an exercise regimen.

“There are widely published guidelines that indicate, depending on your age, a target heart rate,” Moritsugu said. “This is to make sure that you aren’t overdoing your exercises and will help achieve peak physical fitness.”

Moritsugu explained that due to the severity of COVID-19, communities and individuals need to focus on the pandemic to prevent further spread of the virus and reduce the number of people suffering from the illness.

COVID-19 has changed the way people interact with each other due to social distancing, reducing the number of gatherings and mask-wearing. Many families are balancing family life with a hectic work-from-home routine. Steps that have been put in place to reduce the virus’ spread have taken an emotional toll on many individuals.

As the threat of COVID-19 still lingers, almost a year after the first-known diagnosis of the infection, people are experiencing “pandemic fatigue.”

“It has really forced us to behave differently,” Moritsugu said. “It has also created a marked negative impact on mental health. COVID-19 has created a situation where people are worrying more, feeling more stress, and experiencing isolation and loneliness. This has increased anxiety and depression.”

According to Moritsugu, fitness plays a critical role in combating the virus and improving overall health and physical health. “Regular exercise can help protect individuals from chronic conditions,” he said. “And it can also help with (mental health).

For those who do not regularly exercise, the good news is it does not require a strenuous activity level. A mere 30 minutes of daily active movement such as taking a brisk walk can help bolster the immune system and improve mental health.

While gyms are taking precautions by limiting equipment usage and sanitizing, not everyone is comfortable heading to the gym to work out. Some do not have access to a fitness facility. This “new normal” has forced personal trainers to develop creative exercise programs.

Seth Scrimo, a personal trainer from the Wooster area and a Marine Corps reservist in charge of fitness, works one on one with his clients virtually and stays in contact via phone and text to keep them motivated. Working out in a small space indoors is possible, and he has created limited-space routines that help people stay in shape without going to a gym or being outdoors in cold temperatures.

“You only need a space where your hands can reach above your head and where you can lay down on the ground,” Scrimo said. “A space about the size of a bed is all you need.”

Scrimo has taken some of the exercise techniques he uses to keep his troops in shape and modified them to be done indoors where workout space can be limited.

“I consult with people interested in virtual exercise and design a routine for them,” Scrimo said. “I look at what equipment they have available, what they are capable of doing and their schedule to determine an optimal program.”

Scrimo, who also is a food service specialist in the Marine Corps, monitors his client’s caloric intake and recommends meal plans for those wanting to shed excess weight.

“Working one on one with people, virtually, keeps them motivated, and I can tailor a program to fit their schedule and dietary needs,” Scrimo said. “People are still hesitant to go to a gym. They want to see improvement, but they don’t know how to get started at home. I have had people tell me that they have gained 15-20 pounds since the pandemic began.”

There are a few different reasons people have gained weight from being in quarantine.

“Some people have told me that they are eating the same amount, but they haven’t been going out to exercise,” Scrimo said. “Some have been eating more due to stress and anxiety. A lot of people are watching (TV) rather than focusing on their fitness level.”

A flexible workout schedule is critical.

“If you have a walk or jog scheduled on Monday and it rains, replace that activity with something else,” Scrimo said. “Wait and see what the weather is like on Tuesday and try to fit the missed routine in then. Life is going to happen, but skipping a workout can be unmotivating. There is wiggle-room in the plans I develop. If we can get 80% of a workout in, that is better than doing nothing. We need to stay fluid.”

Losing weight can be easy on the wallet. Many people are grocery shopping online and getting food delivered or taking advantage of curbside pickup, resulting in less urge to buy impulsively. People also are dining out less.

“When you prepare your food at home, you know what ingredients are being used,” Scrimo said. “You can substitute high-calorie ingredients, like butter and oils, for lower-calorie alternatives.”

Scrimo also uses technology to help clients lose weight. “I have a nutrition program that develops meal plans based on dietary needs,” he said. “Whether you are vegan, gluten-free or have other dietary restrictions, I can tailor a viable diet to fit any schedule based on eating habits.”

Habits are hard to break, and people like routine. But Scrimo suggests making new habits and keeping them flexible to see maximum results.

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