Guest Post · snow · swimming · temperature and exercise · winter

Cold water swimming (Guest post)

Sam is contemplating cold water swimming. I’m one of the people whose facebook posts have her intrigued!

I started this spring. Swimming last year was so much fun I couldn’t wait to start this year (I live in a coastal village). I read a bit; I listened to some podcasts. I found one of my climbing friends is an experienced freshwater swimmer; I asked her lots of questions. COVID-19 was on so I was looking for excitement close to home this spring.

In late April, I started getting in and out of the water. I had a good few months of swimming through the summer and as late as October (the ocean stays warm longer than lakes do). I went back to dipping in and out of the water in November, and now (mid-December) I’ve even resorted to a wetsuit.


I remember swimming in lakes in Saskatchewan as a kid–the water was cold enough to produce blue lips in August. But here, in the North Atlantic ocean, I’ve been learning about whole new levels of cold. There’s ankle-aching cold (coldest); there’s shooting-nerve-pains-in-the-hands cold (a little less cold—that’s an existing vulnerability); and there’s a neck-cramp cold (almost swimmable). Above the neck cramp temperature, I can stay in the water and swim.

These are all November – December photos. Mind you, it’s Nova Scotia (not Saskatchewan), so November – December can still mean +9C.

That doesn’t sound like much of an advertisement, does it? The thing is, it’s a very satisfying experience. Hugely refreshing. A mood lifter. It makes an enormous difference if you tell yourself on the way to the water: ‘I’m really looking forward to an ice bath.’ (You don’t have to believe it when you say it.) It also helps to refer to swimming in lakes and the ocean the way the British do–as “wild swimming.” (Doesn’t that sound wonderful?)

There are safety concerns. I understand it’s best to walk in instead of dive or jump. Monitor your breathing. When your body wants to gasp and you halt your breath, that’s an involuntary response to the cold. If you’re going slowly, you can re-establish your breathing before you continue. If you’ve jumped in over your head and you do this, you could drown when you gasp and take in water. Make it your initial goal just to get in and out. Only gradually start to extend the amount of time you spend in the water. When you start to do that, you should do some of your own research to learn about what’s safe and what to pay attention to in your body. Your body temperature will continue to drop for some time after you get out of the water (20 minutes, I believe)–you have to plan to get somewhere warm, get the wet clothes off, maybe even take a hot shower.

(I won’t go into the sauna options, but I have to admit I first got into water this cold in April in Geneva, at the Bains des Pâquis, where there are three kinds of heat–sauna, hammam, and turkish bath–on offer when you get out.)

I have gone in one day when there was snow on the ground, but I’m nowhere near going in when there’s ice on the water, unlike Cath Pendleton.

Here’s more about Cath Pendleton:

Cath Pendleton, from the Outdoor Swimmer website.

covid19 · fitness · fun · Guest Post · hiking · temperature and exercise · winter

So Many Reasons to Hike with Friends this Winter (Guest Post)

By Elan P

As the days of winter get shorter and colder, we begin shifting our thoughts and habits to account for the winter. Tracy I , Nicole P , and Sam B have all blogged on winter exercise and how they love it, have grown to love it, or have chosen to love it (respectively). 

Of course, there is an added layer of challenge this year, as catherine w describes, when we must exercise during a pandemic. Many bloggers in the FIFI community emphasize how maintaining physical health also supports mental health during COVID-19 isolation.

Over the past few years I’ve posted about group exercise in a summer fun run and winter fun run. In her post, Catherine invited FIFI readers to share our winter pandemic plans: mine will be regular winter hiking with friends.

Just starting out on the Elgin Trail. Photo by Elan Paulson (CC-BY SA ND NC)

Using a social media chat channel, each week those available agree on a 2 to 5 hour hiking route in SW Ontario, of easy to moderate difficulty, then on weekend mornings we just get up and go. If we carpool together, we wear masks. We keep track of our journeys with GPS, pictures, and good memories. Only a few times so far have we canceled due to poor weather conditions.

I asked this group how likely they are to continue hiking outdoors together this winter. Here is what some of them said:

  • I’m very likely to continue group hiking this winter. Why? It’s fresh air. It’s exercise. It’s community with amazing, diverse women who inspire and support one another. It clears my mind, works my body, and fills my heart. (Kimi)
  • As a single person during covid, it’s even more important for me to keep contact with my friends doing what we love, which is being outside being active. It’s all about mental health check-ins. (Sarah)
  • Our small hiking group this summer allowed us a sense of normalcy during a mentally and physically challenging pandemic. Hiking provided the perfect outlet for our need to stay safe and stay connected. I look forward to continuing our hikes this winter as COVID cases continue to rise and our fears and anxieties fester. Fresh air, friends and physical fitness are the remedies that will get us through this darker than usual winter. (Sheila)
  • Hiking has become a regular component of our self-care, especially since Covid. Everyone in our hiking group decided that we need to make time for this self-care ritual. For me, when I immerse myself in nature, combined with the methodical pace of hiking, I am soothed. And as a group, we are sharing this experience. Often we find ways to avoid, replace, or distract us from self-care. The hiking group has kept us all accountable and motivated to keep it a priority. We will continue even in tougher weather as part of our commitment. Self-care is non-negotiable. And snow and cold add a layer of physical challenge. (Marnie)
  • I am likely to continue group hiking over the winter because I’ve found a great group of like minded women who have a desire to challenge themselves to get outdoors, stay in shape and enjoy a beer. (Julie)

Exercise. Support. Clarity. Check-ins. Safety. Normalcy. Accountability. Motivation. Challenge. Sharing experiences. Self-care (which for our group usually includes enjoying a beer during or after the hike). I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Friends hike the Elgin Trail. Photo by Elan Paulson (CC-BY SA ND NC)

One person isn’t joining us for an upcoming hike due to a recent COVID-19 outbreak at her workplace. Here’s what she said:

  • I enjoy doing sports that are social. Hiking in this respect is social, and as Sarah said, for our mental well being this is so important! It might also be the laughing that happens is also food for the soul. Hiking is in the outdoors, and you don’t touch things, so the risk of spread is super low as long as people are hiking a bit apart. I feel our group has been smart and conscientious of our social distancing, while being able to enjoy and look forward to outdoor activities. Still, I will continue group hiking after this gets resolved at work. I don’t want to cause anyone stress.

Even when we hike outdoors together, we can’t forget to be vigilant about staying safe.

So, if you’ve been practicing physical distancing and you’re not showing signs of illness, grab a few friends (well, don’t grab them) and head outside for a winter hike. There are so many good reasons to do it. If you’re looking for a new crew, there are hiking groups available. Choose a group with clear safety practices that follow local health guidelines.

A woman walks across a small wooden slat bridge in the forest with leaves on the ground
Marnie M. hikes the Elgin Trail. Photo by Elan Paulson (CC-BY SA ND NC)
fitness · temperature and exercise

Midsummer heat too much? Try cold exercise…

Some people are never satisfied with the weather. When it’s cold outside, they yearn for warm summer breezes. When that breeze comes, it’s either too windy, or it’s too darn hot.

Me? I love love love the summer and the heat that comes with it. I do have my limits, though. In Scottsdale, Arizona for a few days before a trip to the Grand Canyon and Sedona, temps hit 108F/42C. That’s too much for me. But at 7000 feet above sea level, the south rim of the Canyon was great. And Sedona, although hot and dry (upper 90sF/35-36C), provided us with delicious swimming holes with delicious cold water. I love love loved it– the water was cold but refreshing and invigorating (no euphemisms here– it really was great).

But suppose you don’t have the benefit of cold fresh (or salt) water at your disposal? What can a cold-seeking person do in the midst of summer to move around chillily? Of course there’s always Newfoundland and Labrador, which are plenty cool enough– just ask Samantha, Cate, Susan, Sarah, David, and the rest of their recent bike trip crowd. You can read more about their cold cycling adventures here and here.

But suppose you just want to experience the rush of cold during a gym or yoga workout. Is there such a thing? Of course there is. This New York Times article talks about gyms that specialize in colder-temperature workouts. One in particular, a gym called Brrrn, features souped-up gimmicky (IMO) cardio, using ropes and slide boards and weights and such like.

Instructor sliding on board with arms up, near a bunch of coiled ropes all in a row. Photo by Dolly Faibyshev for the NY Times.
Instructor sliding on board with arms up, near a bunch of coiled ropes all in a row. Photo by Dolly Faibyshev for the NY Times.

Brrrn used to offer cold yoga-like classes, but their website no longer shows them. Pity that, because I have often said that I would love a lower-temperature yoga class. In fact, I searched all over the internet for minutes on end, and haven’t found one. Sure, there are lots of links to “cold indoor yoga”, but in the end, all my leads have gone, well, cold.

Obligatory response to cornball attempt at joke (ba dum tsssh...)
Obligatory response to cornball attempt at joke (ba dum tsssh…)

Why would anyone want to do physical activity in cold temperatures? People (including me) cite their hard limits to heat tolerance that curtail or even rule out hot-weather workouts. I don’t do well cycling in hot temperatures, although I do better over time if I keep it up consistently. This strategy, by the way, is endorsed by none other than the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, where I found this rather detailed article (including graphs tracking rectal temperatures– these people are serious) about acclimating to aerobic exercise in heat.

There’s been a lot of press about the idea that cold weather workouts are more fat-burning, and that cold exposure promotes the conversion of white fat (“bad”) to beige fat (“sort of good but not as good as brown fat, which is really good”). There is some preliminary science suggesting that exposure to slightly colder temperatures over time can help convert white fat to brown fat (as usual, this study was done on 21-year-old men). Even so, exposure to warm temperatures reverses the effect. As for cold-weather workouts burning more fat— despite the hype, there’s just not research out there to support the claim. (If you find studies, please put them in the comments! I’d love to see them).

Back to exercise in a chill(y) environment just for purposes of fun and variety: from what I have found (through minutes on end of searching), commercial cold-room indoor gym exercise or yoga hasn’t caught on (yet). If Brrrn is still open the next time I go to NYC, I am definitely trying it (with my friend Martin, who is game for just about anything).

In the meantime, there’s plenty of refreshing cool and cold water around where I live for a chill swim workout.

And it’s good to remember that to every thing there is a season. And a time for every purpose. Including Snow-ga. Which may or may not be a thing. See below and check out this article.

A person doing yoga in backbend with one leg up, on mat on pack ice next to an iceberg. Brrrr...
A person doing a backbend with one leg up, on a yoga mat on pack ice next to an iceberg. Brrrr…

Are you enjoying being active in the heat? Are you avoiding it? How does the heat affect your activity schedules and regimens? I’d love to hear from you.