Resisting the Siren Call of the Couch… Staying Fit After Fifty

It’s winter. And it’s snowing, or raining, or freezing raining depending on where you live. And cold. So, what should you do when, like the song says, “the weather outside is frightful… and the fire is so delightful?” You may not want to hear this… but… resist, my friends. Resist the temptation to hunker down and stay indoors. Resist the urge to curl up on the couch by the fire with some shortbread and a good book. Resist the temptation to NOT go outside… until April.

Cross country skiing on the Osgoode Trail, Osgoode Ontario. Gortex jacket, and fleece from Mountain Equipment Co-op. Turtleneck by Columbia. RayBan sunglasses.
Last winter on the Osgoode Trail near our house. That’s Hubby in the background.

Because not resisting, giving in to the temptation to sit inside, can be really bad for us. And for our health. I know it’s hard. Winter can be off-putting. The cold. The snow. The early darkness. The time it takes to get bundled up enough to brave the elements. It’s all sooo much effort. I get that.
But there’s just too much information out there to ignore the fact that inactivity is hard on us. You probably already know that sitting can be hazardous to our health. Our bodies get used to the reduced “physical demands” and our metabolism slows down. Contributing to increased weight and impaired blood circulation. Too much sitting makes us more susceptible to heart disease and other conditions. I’ve read a number of articles on this in the past couple of years since I retired. Since I found that I sit way more then I used to when I was still teaching. Way more than I know is good for me. Have a look at this article from Good Housekeeping for instance.  It’s pretty interesting, and the author provides numerous links to her sources.
Until I retired I didn’t realize how much I moved around all day at school without even thinking about it. Up and down stairs, up and down long hallways, moving around the classroom, standing at the the front of a classroom waving my arms as I talked to the class. And when I retired I had to replace all that movement… somehow. And it hasn’t been easy. Not when I love to read, write this blog, and have started drawing again. All activities which have me seated in one spot or another.
And winter adds another wrinkle to the problem. In spring, summer, or fall… when the weather is warm and fine… it’s much easier to get up from my chair. Go outside. Go for a walk. Or a bike ride. Meet my friends for coffee after an hour of walking. But winter makes that harder. There’s the cold, as I mentioned. And snow. And all that bundling up. And then there’s the siren call of the book, the couch, and the crackling fire. Some days resisting that is a Herculean task… I kid you not.
But I have a secret weapon in my house. A nagging husband. My own personal coach, trainer, motivator. This is particularly helpful in the winter, when, even if it’s sunny, I could easily fall prey to my desire to read the whole day long. “Come on, Suz. It’s beautiful outside,” Hubby intones. I groan. And then start getting dressed. “You know you’ll feel great when you get going.” Yeah. Yeah. I know. So I do get going. And I always feel better for it.
Cross-country skiing in Marlboro Forest, near North Gower, Ontario.
Head to toes in borrowed clothes in 1985.
Hubby has been cajoling and persuading me out onto the trails since before he was my hubby. We went cross-country skiing on our second date. I had skied exactly once before. I had no equipment or appropriate clothing. Except a turtleneck. That’s why in the shot above, from 1985, I’m wearing Hubby’s toque, hoodie, jacket, pants, socks, and gloves. And ski boots that he borrowed from the equipment room at school. The sunglasses are my own.
Cross-country skiing in Marlboro Forest, near North Gower, Ontario
Marlboro Forest, around 1987 or 88.
I learned to cross-country ski on the golf course across from our house, except it was only Hubby’s house then. And on the snowmobile trails in nearby Marlboro Forest. That’s where the picture above was taken. Probably somewhere around 1987 or 88. I’m wearing the Gortex jacket and pants that Hubby bought me for Christmas that year. You might say that we had a trail-side romance.
Cross-country skiing on Leaf Lake Trails in Algonquin Park, Ontario.
Skiing in Algonquin Park, 1990’s.

For years we’ve tried to get away for at least a weekend to ski in Algonquin Park. The trails are beautiful, well groomed, and virtually empty most days. In the shot above, taken sometime in the 1990’s, we’d stopped for lunch at this cabin on the trail. The men who groom the trails usually build a fire in the wood stove, so by the time we got there the cabin was toasty warm.

And the one below was taken on the Leaf Lake Trail in Algonquin Park in 2006. I’m chuckling to myself as I write this because the only way I can tell the vintage of these photographs is from what I’m wearing. Scientists use carbon dating… I use clothing dating.

Cross-country skiing on Leaf Lake Trails in Algonquin Park, Ontario. Jacket, fleece, toque all from Mountain Equipment Co-op
Leaf Lake Trail in Algonquin Park. 2006.

I always feel amazing after a good ski. Tired, and for the first few outings every year, a bit stiff, legs a bit wobbly, arms a little floppy. But I’m always glad that I’ve gone. Cross country skiing is wonderful exercise. Apparently it is unique among other forms of “endurance exercise,” like running, because it provides a “full body workout.” It uses all the big muscles, arms and legs, and builds cardio capacity as well. In his article in the Globe and Mail Alex Hutchinson makes reference to studies done in Sweden and the United States that look at how cross-country skiing can benefit us as we age. According to Hutchinson: “Good genes can help you live a long life, but if you want to enjoy those later years go skiing.”

Friendly chickadees in Algonquin Park.
Hubby sharing his trail lunch in Algonquin Park.

Now, I know it’s not easy to get out there. To brave the elements when mother nature is not being friendly.  Even harder for those of you whose winter does not include our gorgeous, crisp, sunny days. But the effort is worth it. Science tells us that it’s worth it. Our improved mood and feeling of well being after we’ve exercised tells us that it’s worth it.
And besides, there is really nothing better than a well deserved loll on the couch in front of the fire, with a cup of tea, and a good book… after a day on the ski trails. Just remember that it’s important to get the order of events correct… first the resistance, then the skiing, then the lolling.

Now, I’m thinking of setting up a little business venture. I might farm Hubby out as a nagger-for-hire. His encouragement over the years to just get out there and exercise has no doubt benefited me. Maybe his nagging could help others?

What do you think?


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34 thoughts on “Resisting the Siren Call of the Couch… Staying Fit After Fifty”

  1. My husband is a key part of my exercise routine, too. We walk at 5:45 most mornings. The only other thing that gets me up and moving is to think, "9:00 a.m. Tricia is going to be so happy that 5:45 a.m. Tricia got up and walked!" Oh, and my watch will chide me if I don't hit my exercise goal.

    1. Great point, Tricia. I do that myself to avoid procrastinating… because I know that tomorrow's Sue will be pissed at today's Sue for not doing what she should have:)

  2. I am drinking tea and eating shortbread as I started reading your post. Guess I will get out of my pjs and go outside…after I have more shortbread. Just the perfect gentle persuasion I needed today. Frigid weather from the north is headed our way, but I will dig out my parka and go for a walk. No skiing here in Texas.

  3. I'm quite new to cross country skiing. I would love it if you could do a post about the winter outfits you put together now for skiing/any winter, outdoor exercise.

    1. Hmmm. Good idea, Lynda. I'll see what I can do. I'll be shopping for some new base layers after Christmas… so I'll do it then. Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. My husband was from a family of walkers/ramblers/hikers , not sure what you call it there , so he influenced ( nagged ) me & it's something we've always enjoyed together . We've tramped over many of the public footpaths of the U.K. , explored foreign countryside too & now it's mainly dog walking . I can't face organized exercise like the gym or classes but it's different in the open air , with things to see & the chance to meet dog walker friends . Not as good for us as your skiing of course but at least it is regular exercise . With dogs you have to be out everyday whatever the weather & if it's grim you really appreciate your cosy fireside & a hot drink when you get back . And yes , I'd like to see your outdoor outfits too – I have rather an obsession with waterproof jackets 🙂
    Wendy in York

    1. I'd love it if we had a system of public footpaths here in Canada like you do in Britain. Too many bogs and inaccessible forested areas maybe. Or bears. Might be why we historically have not been a nation of walkers. That's changing now of course with hiking paths and bike paths.
      Having a dog is a great way to have to get out and walk, isn't it? Except I know that not all dog owners do it. That's sad for the dog, I think. And maybe just a little irresponsible too?

  5. It *is* hard to get out in the cold. I hate cold weather. I am a summer person through and through. This year, though, I have vowed to get in better shape. So far, so good. Now that winter has finally arrived, I don't want to lose what I've gained.

    I agree that some tips on how to dress for cold weather would be most helpful. Here in Iowa, we are currently having temps in the low teens. We can also get as low as -20, although that is not an every day occurrence. I'm trying to properly outfit myself for outdoor walking. I don't know what I'm doing. Help!

    1. I'll do my best Riley. But it will be suggestions based on my experience and not any real expertise. I may do some research, though, when I'm shopping in January for new ski underwear etc to take to South America.

  6. Nancy in Ottawa
    Great post Sue – has me laughing at hiring out hubby as a nagger! I have been thinking about giving up running. Maybe skiing is an answer…

    1. Why hello, Nancy in Ottawa. I had to give up running years ago…it was a wrench. I loved it. Skiing is easier on the knees…. and harder on the arms…which is good.
      Hope you and Don and Audrey have a great Christmas, Nancy:)

  7. I hate winter. The cold, the darkness, the wind. Beyond that my body seems to hate it as well. My daily hour long walks with the pug are over. I tried to continue on but when people don't clear their sidewalks and there is a layer of ice to walk on it becomes a health hazard, a couple of years ago the husband fell and was lucky he didn't break something.

    On top of that my skin hates cold. In fact, I cannot have any skin on my face exposed otherwise I have welts that will last anywhere from a couple of days to a week. This has gotten worse with age. Even when it was only 8C I had to walk the pug with a full on balaclava, I look like a bank robber, just ridiculous. It isn't comfortable either. I think I am meant to live in a warmer climate.

    So, sadly it is indoor yoga or the treadmill with some weights thrown in. I must say that lately I've been very lax about the aerobic exercise. I need to get back at the treadmill and weights.


  8. Great post. When we lived in your area, I used to run….yes in the winter with the wind chill. I worked in the city near the Rideau Canal. Yes along the Canal…winter and summer. Now living on the West Coast…..I don't run anymore….but I do walk/hike almost every day. Now it's rain and sometimes snow…but it is really worth it. All it takes is discipline….so that those skinny jeans and ankle boots still look good. Vanity…..


    1. When I was still running, I loved to run in the winter as well. It was so easy to take my running clothes to school and run from there. Running is so portable…no need for tons of equipment or groomed trails. Much easier in the city.
      And you're right…vanity is a good motivator… I've always said I exercise mostly so I can fit into my jeans.

  9. I hike through the woods every morning for an hour, or so – rain, snow or heat of summer. Just like the postman. Lol I've tried indoor classes but I always yearn for the outdoors. When I'm finished, I feel good that I moved my body and that coffee afterwards is much deserved and appreciated.
    Renting your Hubby out is a brilliant idea. You would be doing a public service. ?

    1. Good for you, Joanne. I'm not one for exercise classes either. Mostly because I can't stand being told what to do. Except by Hubby… and even then sometimes he pushes it:)

  10. Thank goodness my husband keeps me actively motivated in the winter. 😉 We live in BC in the winter and enjoy daily downhill skiing. I certainly could enjoy the fireplace and book routine… But deep down I know I'm healthier for the effort. Enjoy your cold days Sue! ❄️�� Robin

    1. I have friends who want to do active things but whose partners are not interested. That's hard, I think. Hard to find a fitness buddy.
      Enjoy your skiing, Robin.

  11. Unbelievably, here in our part of Alberta we haven't yet had enough snow to go cross country skiing! I do manage to haul myself off the couch to lift weights three times a week and I've thought about dusting off the treadmill and getting back on, but so far it's only been a thought!

  12. Hey, that's a really good support system you've got going! Me? Hubby, who once was a whirlwind of activity , has turned into a true couch potato the last couple of years. He does make to the Y each morning, but more often than not it becomes a gab session with acquaintances. The cold here in New England doesn't bother me. In fact I like a walk in the brisk air better than in the summer. Never did ski, but went on plenty of ski trips with friends! Mostly it's the pool at the Y or maybe a yoga class that keeps me entertained during the winter. I'm loving reading all the posts from people who ski. Wish I could.

    1. My girlfriend had never skied until a couple of years ago. My friend found a class that taught her to cross country ski and now it's a winter staple with her. Not as hard on you as downhill and with less chance of injury…if you stick to mostly flat trails. Cross country skiing involves less expense than downhill, and is better exercise. I wonder if there are classes where you live in New England? But if not…swimming is fabulous exercise too.

  13. Great post as always Susan. But nag-for-hire? I think we could set up a Nag Pool. Like most of your readers it would seem, it's my hubby too who gets me out walking on cold winter days. He spent 30+ years living on Dartmoor, so my Mr Motivator poo-poos our more temperate island winters, thus I have to nag HIM – to wear hat, scarf and gloves when we hit our winter.

    1. Oh…I hear you. My husband skis in much colder temperatures than I do. It's only in the past year or so that he's started having trouble keeping his hands warm.

  14. As I sit here with my laptop in front of a deliciously warm woodstove, wind howling outside, I am reminded of a phrase I heard many years ago: "You have to earn your inertia." That's a challenge for someone like me who is very happy with sedentary pursuits. I do definitely rack up a little bit of activity as a teacher (just as you mentioned), but I know I need to work more intentional activity into my life. Thank you for the gentle nudge! — Denise L.

    1. I have always said that I am a naturally sedentary person who has developed the habit of exercise. And sometimes it is hard to force myself to do it. But there's always that reward…at the end..that helps.

  15. I really enjoyed this post Sue. Great idea renting out hubby as a motivator! I agree with you entirely, it's so important to keep moving.Years ago I really enjoyed running and the cross trainer at the gym but unfortunately both aggrevated my back and neck problems so now I just walk. My family were all hikers, hubby's not so much. Although we both enjoy walking all day in Switzerland. On other holidays we tend just to "stroll" 🙂 but at least we're on the move.He enjoys mountain biking with our son but I'm not keen …too many bumps and sheer drops!
    I'm contemplating getting a treadmill we can all use. Although I prefer to walk outside I like the idea of setting various gradients plus I can position it near an open window or door!
    Hope your Christmas shopping trip was successful.I was out this morning before it was completely light ..enjoying a flat white with nutmeg and cinnamon and reviewing my lists!

    1. Running is hard on the body, isn't it? I stopped due to bad knees, then got orthotics to correct a foot problem and started back running. But then my hips started to bother me. Time to quit and find something else that I could carry on with for many years.
      Hope you and your family have a great Christmas, Rosie.

  16. I hate snow in the city! Very much!
    But snow in the country is a fairy tale-you live in a beautiful place! Just to step out and be able to cross country skiing or Nordic walking (for us who don't ski)-perfection!

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