SALT LAKE CITY — The cold winter weather, coupled with the ongoing pandemic, has made it extra challenging for many people to exercise the way they normally do. Whether it outside in nature or indoors at home, several Utah women have found a way to move this year despite these setbacks.
For Amber Smith and her girlfriends, Tiffany Izzat, Regina Gulick, and Dawna Francis, staying active is critical to their physical and emotional wellbeing, especially during the pandemic.
"So we hike probably almost every weekend," Smith said. "It's cold, but it's beautiful and it's not too cold once you are moving!"
"I think I would have just been in bed depressed if I was quarantining this whole time," she added. "This is like a social outlet for me, especially when COVID hit and you're not going to work and you're not seeing the people you see anymore."
While they've been strict to not go to movies together and other social events, hiking has been their saving grace. They hiked from Mount Timpanogos to Moab and everywhere in between this year. Smith says she thrives off the sunshine, vitamin D, and getting fresh air.
Right now, Smith is competing in a challenge that requires her to work out outside at least once a day.
Even though it's getting cold, she says there are a couple of things that help her get out of bed in the winter. "Layers — just having the right clothes on so that you're not cold the whole time," she said.
Having good company is also key to staying committed to her goals. "I think that like makes the biggest difference to have a group of friends that, like, keep you accountable and keep you going and keep you motivated," Smith said.
She challenges people to not let themselves sleep in. "Don't let yourself talk yourself into staying in bed," she said. "Once you're up, the rest is easy!"
Smith says she and her girlfriends are more physically fit now than they were before COVID-19.
Intermountain Healthcare's Dr. Jake Veigel, a sports medicine physician, says we need exercise now more than ever.
"The pandemic is stressful. This is a time of rapid change. There's turbulence, everybody's got anxiety on their minds and exercise helps us to release that," he explained.
Without it? "It's just a perfect storm to really have a bad year. You just kind of sit in your house and feel bad for yourself, but if you can get out and do some things, it's going to make you feel better," Veigel said.
"When you get out of nature, it changes your brain chemistry and there's scientific studies about it," Izzat added. "It's just getting outside — the blue skies, the mountains, the snow, the clouds — it's just so good for your brain."
Veigel says exercise goes beyond our mental health. "It helps with cardiovascular health, it helps reduce cancer risk," he added, in addition to preventing obesity.
He says the key to success is staying flexible, especially for those who work from home. "I think we can allow ourselves a little bit more flexibility to go and get that exercise done during the middle of the afternoon when it's warmer and the sun is out," he suggested.
While he encourages people to get as much fresh air as possible this winter when there isn't an inversion, Viegel says it's important to have a backup plan indoors when it's just too cold or icy to get outside.
For Dawn Bardon, that's indoor cycling.
While she loves the outdoors, Dawn openly admits: "I'm a serious cold weather wimp … I see folks out there riding on Wasatch in the snow and hats off to you but I can't do that!"
She is grateful she has an indoor routine for those blizzardy days. "It's imperative, especially with Utah, you never know what you're going to get," she said. "It's crucial to sort of wake up and even day to day sort of assess, 'You know, is there snow on the ground?'"
Bardon says time on her indoor trainer gets the job done. "At this point, I am not comfortable going back to the gym. Just it's too many people and too close to space for my comfort level," she explained.
She says it's especially important for her to stay healthy since she has asthma.
"So it enables you to stay obviously very socially distant, but you still get to communicate (and) talk to humans," Bardon said.
She and her husband use a virtual platform called Zwift to ride with other cyclists in real-time. "I literally had people from all over the world waiting for me to lead the ride so I have to get out of bed. I don't really have a choice," she said.
Bardon says her indoor workouts are still effective. "Your heart rate is going, you're breathing heavy," she added.
Veigel encourages people to get at least 30 minutes of exercise three days a week. "But really, for somebody who's having a hard time getting out, the best exercise for them is whatever they love to do," Veigel said.
He encourages people to get a good night's rest and find someone to keep you accountable, whether that's safely in person or at a distance.
"Use it or lose it," Bardon said. "I want to be as healthy and as enjoy as much as the state has to offer for as long as possible."
Veigel suggests investing in some resistance bands or small weights to use at home.
For additional ideas on how to work out at home, check out Intermountain Healthcare's On-Demand workout resources and virtual LiVe Well Classes, like yoga, cardio, and strength training, which you can stream from the comfort of your own home.