Winter is not an easy time, and complaints about the weather are truly justified. Dreadful cold, snow, ice, and wind are afflicting most of the country, along with unseasonable thunderstorms, torrential rains, and tornados. Even though spring (on the calendar) is about five weeks away, there is no guarantee that conditions will improve quickly by the middle of March.
One consequence of the perverseness of the weather is its effect on exercising outside. Going for a run, biking to work or for recreation, snowshoeing or skating, playing golf or tennis become almost impossible when temperatures and wind chill cause frost bite, or the heavy rains turn sidewalks into rivers.
Exercising inside may be possible only if one has equipment at home or as part of an apartment complex or office building. Health clubs, even a few blocks from work or home, may be impossible to reach when weather conditions are disastrous. Those whose first response to bad weather is to think longingly of going back to bed may consider the inaccessibility of a place to exercise as irrelevant. In fact, it may be looked upon positively, i.e. “No one will nag me about working out if we are told to stay home because of weather conditions.”
But there is an alternative to becoming a weather-related couch potato: exercise apps. These are available to anyone who owns a smartphone and/or a computer, most are free, and those that have to be paid for cost considerably less than the daily cost of a gym membership. Moreover, most require nothing more than a carpeted floor (to prevent sore elbows and knees) and perhaps a low stool. One free and popular option is the, ‘Seven Minute Workout.’ This is exactly a seven-minute combination of aerobic exercise and muscle building moves that leave the heart pounding and the lungs seeking air. The very fit can move onto the advanced version, which as described in a New York Times review is torture but only seven minutes of torture and probably not as bad as having a cavity filled without Novocain.
“Sounds easy,” I thought to myself while researching exercise options for this article as I downloaded the beginner’s version on my smartphone. Warning: If you are one of those people who read directions only after you try to turn on a computerized version of a washing machine or the audio system in your new car, don’t do the same with the exercise program. For one thing, one exercise in the beginner’s version of the seven-minute workout requires standing and stepping down from a medium height chair or stool. The one chair without wheels in the room where I was trying out the program did not look sturdy enough for bouncing up and down on it with one leg and then the other. By the time I tentatively tried it, that exercise was over. Yoga and Pilates participants will be familiar with most of the positions but for those who think a plank is a long and narrow piece of wood, being told to get into the plank position for 30 seconds may seem bizarre. And while I can do push-ups fairly easily (a long stint on crutches a few years back strengthened my upper arms), single arm push-ups were beyond me even in this beginner’s exercise routine.
But if I had read the directions before starting the program I might have fared better. There are several videos that slowly and carefully demonstrate how to do the exercises and better yet, show options for those whose fitness levels are similar to the cushions on which they usually reside. Moreover, it is important to remember, as I reminded myself, that this is not a competition and unlike doing these moves in a class where everyone else seems more adapt and fit, no one can see me.
The limitation of such a brief but intense exercise program is that the aerobic component is very short but there is no penalty for continuing running in place, for example, for longer than the 30 seconds or so on the program. Adding stair climbing or jump roping or running around the cellar with a toddler or puppy will also increase the cardio-workout component.
But the best thing about the indoor exercise option is its brevity. You may moan and groan at some of the exercises, especially when weather enforced immobility has left you stiff and short of breath. But by the time you decide that maybe it was a mistake to attempt to exercise, the program is over.
Seven minutes of vigorous movement each day is less than accepted standards for daily exercise. Study after study has pointed to thirty minutes of physical activity three or four times a week as being the minimal amount of movement we should be doing to keep our physical and mental health from deteriorating. On the other hand, any exercise is better than none. And the relentless pace of the seven-minute workout may increase stamina faster than a slow stroll through an indoor shopping mall or around the block.
Now if someone could adapt this program so it could be used while standing in a long line at the supermarket, on a commuter train, or during those pesky endless commercial breaks, we all will be in great shape, regardless of the weather.