Credit: Stock photo / Pexels

No one would confuse me with a true fitness fanatic, but, back in 2019, I became something of a gym rat. With help from the trainers at my local fitness center, I nailed down a routine that worked for me: half an hour at a gentle trot on the treadmill, followed by 45 minutes of sweaty sit-ups, pull-ups, push-downs, biceps curls, triceps extensions, leg presses and more. A shower, a short soak in the hot tub and I was done.

I came to deeply enjoy this vigorous workout, and, for over a year, stuck faithfully to my every-other-day commitment.

Then came 2020, and COVID-19. In March, along with a lot of other businesses, my gym shut down. Surely, I thought, it will reopen soon and I can get back to my fitness routine. But the weeks dragged on, and, even when my gym did open its doors, in May, it didn’t feel safe to go there.

It still doesn’t.

I’m in my mid-60s and at high risk of developing a severe illness from the coronavirus, so I’m pretty wary.

It was easy to stay active during the warm months, what with outside chores and the hiking and paddling activities I enjoy. But Maine’s long winter presented a greater challenge. I realized I had to make a workable plan and stick with it if I didn’t want to lose ground.

So, since early November, I have maintained a pretty solid routine. Every other morning, I get up and immediately dress for my outside workout. I take a drink of water, bundle my old dog into her fleecy coat and step out into the cold day. We take a slow, almost 2-mile jog/trot to the end of the road and back, with a short stretch break halfway through. Back at the house, I drink more water and do a bit more stretching before coffee and breakfast.

On alternate mornings, I spend about 30 minutes on simple yoga stretches, with a focus on developing strength, balance and flexibility. After yoga, I do 20 belly crunches and 10 push-ups, twice, then some arm exercises using two 5-pound weights.

It’s a simple plan, but it’s working for me. Here are some things I’ve learned:

My motivation is highest first thing in the morning. If I wander downstairs in my robe and start reading the news with a cup of coffee, I may never get back on track.

The right clothes are important, even if no one’s looking, and my mindset improves if I dress the part. Really cold weather calls for careful layers of sweat-wicking underwear, warm tights, fleecy tops and a wind-resistant outer layer. Consider heated gloves or warming inserts. You should also have a warm hat and a face mask — either a traditional, cold-weather balaclava or one of the new COVID-style masks designed for athletic wear. For yoga, I generally wear lightweight leggings and a loose top.

Footwear is critical, starting with warm socks. The cross-trainer shoes I used at the gym are fine most of the time, but on super-cold mornings I lace up my lightweight hiking boots, adding stretchy grippers if the road is at all icy. They’re not easy to jog in, but I make do. If it’s extremely cold, windy or otherwise foul outside, I stay in and do my yoga routine instead, barefoot.

Though not as rigorous as my gym workouts, this is a challenging-enough routine for me. It’s relatively simple, adaptable to changes in weather, and doesn’t require any investment in equipment. Because it’s repetitive and planned, I don’t have to decide if I “feel like it” — I just do it. It gets me off to a great start every morning. And, when the day comes that I feel safe going back to the gym, I won’t be starting from scratch.

This first appeared in the January/February issue of Bangor Metro magazine, available on newsstands throughout much of Maine. Bangor Metro is also available by subscription.

Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at mhaskell@bangordailynews.com.