Fitness in winter is no more than a step away

If you’re looking for a healthy workout, the Lower Mainland’s great outdoors can provide far more than just a gorgeous view

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      When it comes to getting fit and staying in shape, what’s the best approach? According to Laurie White, the answer is easy: “The best exercise is the one you do,” the ski guide told the Georgia Straight.

      If White’s advice sounds too simplistic, mull over her words while taking a long walk. After all, putting one foot in front of the other is something that comes naturally. “You’ll never do anything better than walking,” advised the fiftyish instructor. “I use Nordic walking poles for power walking coupled with a heart monitor, which is an essential tool to track your workout.”

      Then she followed up with a caveat: “When you’re out for a walk, don’t stick to level ground but use the landscape to get the most benefit. Step up and down on curbs. Uneven terrain works the proprioception muscles in your lower legs, which are crucial to balance—and balance is the key to fitness.”

      Balancing daily exercise with a busy work schedule is one of life’s biggest challenges. One underappreciated lesson of holding down a job is that it instills the importance of simply showing up day after day. Apply that same attitude to a fitness session. Embellish a workout with a dash of creativity by using the landscape to your advantage.

      That’s exactly what fitness instructor Neil Chomos demonstrated to the Straight during a recent outing along a section of the waterfront Spirit Trail in North Vancouver. Pausing beside a panoramic viewpoint, with Coal Harbour spread out before him, the owner of the BFit Health and Wellness personal-training facility did step-ups on a picnic bench, then finished off with some pushups on the tabletop.

      Hopping down, he moved over to the seawall and chose an appropriately sized piece of riprap to use for some weightlifting. “The West Coast has long been considered the fittest area in Canada, and I would match it up against anywhere in North America,” he said, then added with obvious pride: “And the North Shore is the fittest area in the Lower Mainland because we have the ideal topography for a good cardio workout.”

      Getting your heart rate up is key to obtaining the maximum benefits from exercise. White and Chomos agree that downhill or cross-country skiing offers the best cardio routine in winter. “All that upper-body pole-planting combined with the lower-body sliding movement guarantees a complete workout,” said White, who for the past three years has run the Ski Sisters instruction program for women at Sun Peaks’ snow-sports school.

      Given the North Shore’s hilly topography, with limited level ground on offer, skiing may not be the best fitness option for everyone. No matter the locale, when it comes to basic exercises, White said, she’s a firm believer in pushups. “I do core training every day with a fitness ball with an eye on exercises designed equally for flexibility, balance, cardiovascular endurance, and muscular strength,” she added. “Of all of these four, endurance is the most important to me.”

      Throughout the year, one of the biggest fitness challenges occurs when travelling. On the road, adhering to daily workout routines becomes more difficult. To that end, Chomos recommended investing in an inexpensive sliding disk for foot lunges paired with a length of surgical tubing fitted with handle grips that you can trap under a hotel-room door.

      As for mitigating muscle fatigue after skiing, White favours a 15-minute power walk. “Even if it’s the last thing you want to do, you won’t have sore legs the next day.”

      When time is at a premium, deciding where to go and how much to budget per exercise session can be puzzling. Chomos recommended finding a good outdoor route in a nearby green space. “I gravitate to trails,” said the former competitive runner, who favours Capilano River Regional Park—which separates North and West Vancouver—as the place to be. “There are plenty of dips and step-ups along a good mix of smooth and uneven pathways, plus a blend of flats and hills. I start at the top of Cleveland Dam, drop down past the fish hatchery, and finish on an uphill climb, which is always a good challenge.”

      As to how long a workout should last, both instructors advocated a minimum of 30 minutes of cardio thrice weekly. “Researchers found even though there are benefits for less than that, there are limited rewards,” Chomos said. “The definition of cardio varies with age and physical condition. A brisk walk would qualify if you were unfit. The 
      fitter you are, the higher intensity required to qualify as cardio. A heart monitor is the best way to track that.”

      When asked to list his top three suggestions for maintaining a healthy fitness level, Chomos pinpointed enlisting a friend as a workout buddy. “People are more likely to continue a routine when they’re accountable to someone else. It’s a fantastic motivator. Plus, keep a daily exercise and nutritional journal. Compliance to a habit is more accountable when you write it down.

      “Most of all, make it fun. I don’t subscribe to the no pain, no gain philosophy. Don’t pick an activity if you’re not going to enjoy it. Even if it’s not the best, you’re most likely to continue.”

      With those words of wisdom, take a deep breath, then do what may be the hardest thing of all on a wintry day: step outside.


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      Jan 30, 2013 at 11:13pm

      We live in one of the most gorgeous areas in the world, with almost limitless natural habitat and environment. I am surprised more people do not take advantage Vancouver and surrounding areas.

      I guess that leaves more untouched scenery for the ones that do :)