Fitness and Climate Change

The heat waves this summer are making think about my fitness activities and how to do better. First, how to do better about staying active in the heat, but also how to do fitness better to minimize my contribution to climate change.

Staying active – I am lucky enough to live near an old quarry and an outdoor swimming pool I can walk or bike to every day. For me, both are great ways to exercise and stay cool. I can go to the quarry early enough in the day that I don’t even worry about sunscreen, which is good because it is in a conservation area and most sunscreens are harmful to water creatures.

Beyond that, it gets trickier. It’s too hot to ride my horse by the time I am done work most days, and she lives too far away for me to contemplate a ride before work. I still do my Zoom ballet classes, and there are video options for yoga, HIIT, pilates, various dance forms etc.

But how to do fitness better? One of the biggest pieces may be travel to do activities. At the Tokyo Olympics, there were lots of measures to minimize the carbon footprint, but COVID turned out to be the game changer. Without spectators to feed, house, and entertain, the carbon emissions dropped an estimated 12%. The carbon emissions from all the airline travel for fans to get to Tokyo appears to be on top of that.

That is something I have started discussing with my swim buddies. We meet about once a week at a beach that is relatively central for all of us. But all but one of us drives a car to get there. Public transit isn’t really a viable option given the times we swim and the awful cross-town bus service. I try to minimize my impact by combining that swim with other errands in that part of town, plus grocery shopping on the way home. It does have us questioning whether we will go further south for cold water swims as we have done in the past. And of course, we will all be back at the indoor pools once our swim clubs start up again in the fall; not exactly a low-carbon activity.

Biking is also an option that I want to explore more. Right now, I use it mostly for short commutes to do errands, but lately it has been too hot even for that. I joke that learning to ride a horse would help me survive an apocalypse, at the same time as driving to her barn in the country contributes to that apocalypse. Could I bike, then swim (or ride my horse), then bike home? Probably not, at least not yet. The spirit is willing but the legs are weak. Maybe in a couple of years, once there is a decent train service where I can bring my bike and just cycle the last few kilometres.

I understand the desire to travel in order to do interesting sports; I am currently living vicariously through Cate as she cycles her way around Bulgaria. I thoroughly enjoy all the posts about cycling in Prince Edward County or along the Guelph to Goderich trail, or canoeing in places like Algonquin Park. My bucket list has included a trip to Peru so I can hike to Machu Picchu for decades, and more recently I have dreamed of a swim trek through Croatia. Or even a trip back to British Columbia, which has so many sports options, including canoeing along the Sunshine Coast like these two women.

Photo by Chris Montgomery, via Unsplash

Then there are all the gear questions. Microfibres, miracle knits, water-resistant clothing versus old-school linen and leather. Most days it doesn’t seem like much of a choice. I won’t give up my comfy streamlined bathing suits or goggles and caps, but I can at least limit my purchases to essentials. Just this week I reluctantly threw out a suit I have worn for a decade because the latest repairs were giving me sores when I swam. I have started looking for companies that sell gear made from recycled plastics. So far I haven’t found a swimsuit I love, but I do have gorgeous comfy leggings that get a lot of use.

I wish I had some snappy conclusion, but this is a complicated issue. Getting out and being active allows us to both notice what is happening in our environment, and to be more resilient to its negative effects. At the same time, I live in a city with Canadian winters, so it is hard to do all the things I would like without getting into a car. I am not brave enough for winter cycling. I could focus on more seasonal sports such as cross-country skiing along the nearby river, and give up pool swimming, but that would mean giving up on both friends and an activity where I feel strong.

Do you ever think about how your sports affect the environment? What are you doing to adapt as the world gets hotter and the weather more unpredictable? What trade-offs are you willing to make and what is too important to give up?

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.

Sat with Nat · walking

Nat navigates walking to work in a Polar Vortex

It’s been a week of proper cold winter weather in London, Ontario. I live on the little southern bit of Canada wedged between the Great Lakes. It rarely drops below-20C here but when it does it tends to be because the Arctic airmass slips south into the jet stream and it stays that way for a week or two.

Some Canadians lean into the weather quipping “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just not dressing for the weather,” That supposes everyone has both the means to acquire the right clothing & equipment as well as the knowledge to know what to buy, how to wear it and when to stay indoors.

My partner and I are fairly committed to walking to work as part of our fitness and reducing our carbon footprint. I’m also terribly cheap and hate paying $8-12 a day to park my clunker.

Some days we just bundled up with hats, mitts, good boots and faces covered.

A close up of Nat’s face framed by a fake fur hood. You can just make out her eyes between her grey toque and bright orange face cover

My hood is always up when it’s -24C plus wind chill.

We did walk 2/5 days this week but we also chose to drive when the “feels like” temperature hit -39C. It was a week of driving in a cold car, working in a cold office and wearing layers of clothes in the house & in bed.


This type of cold weather wrecks havoc on batteries so for folks using electric mobility devices like scooters it was a week of being home. Waiting for buses became so hazardous school transportation was cancelled Thursday.

I think one way we can debunk toxic masculinity is calling out ideas of being able to “tough out” the weather. Sure, there are times to dig deep into your resolve to overcome obstacles. And yes, making our lives consciously more physically challenging can be a way to enhance our fitness. But those ideas must also be balanced against safety and wellbeing.

So I’m ok getting the lift offered by a friend on a snowy afternoon as I walk home. I’m ok driving when I might otherwise risk frostbite. I have been looking for rain pants and insulated snow pants that fit for about 5 years to no avail.

I would like some though so if you know where a woman can find women’s size 20 or XXXL I’d love to hear about it!


I’m a Fairweather Cyclist and I’m Okay with That

7-day weather forecast for London Ontario, April 22-28, 2014 -- Today, raining and 8 degrees and windy.

Do you ride no matter what? Or are you, like me, someone who watches the weather?

Sam pulls together a group to go for a short lunch time ride every Tuesday and Thursday, starting today. It’s the right kind of length for me–maximum two hours on the road. And the right kind of speed–they pace to the slowest in the group. It also couldn’t be more convenient. The group meets just outside the Philosophy Department. And Sam has assured me that we don’t knowingly go out in the rain.

But I’m even more fairweather than that. It’s not raining right now, but it was cold when I left for work this morning. And windy. It had been raining earlier, when I left to go to the Y for my swim. Environment Canada said it might rain into the early afternoon.

If it’s wet, or even just threatening to be wet, and it’s cold (under 10 degrees C), and windy (“Wind northwest 30 km/h gusting to 50” was today’s forecast), then at least for the time being, I’m not interested.

Why? Well, here’s the thing. I just got my road bike out of winter storage the other day and pumped up the tires (with some help from my FB friends, who had to remind me about that little valve that needed to be unscrewed first).  I’m keen, even excited, to get back on the bike.  But my last ride of the season, which was also only my second ride on the road bike ever, was miserable. So horrible was it that it prompted me to write a post about suffering.

So I want my first ride of this season to be a good experience.  Rain was not the main issue on that early-November ride that left me wondering whether I really should have bought a road bike. Even the cold wasn’t so bad.  But those gusty northwesterlies? No thanks. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that you can never cycle a whole route with a tailwind. At some point, around some corner, it will happen that you turn into a headwind. So there’s that.

Add to that that this morning, it just felt like a dreary morning to get on my bike for the commute in.  So I bailed.

For a moment I felt as if this fairweatheredness of mine said something about me, like maybe that I lack grit or something like that. I may not be the grittiest of them all, but hey, I was in the pool at 6 a.m. this morning and swam over 2000 metres before a lot of people I know were even awake!

I ran 2-3 times a week through the polar vortex winter, increasing my distance steadily from January to March.

I’ve already ridden my (commuter) bike home in the rain this spring, so it’s not as if I won’t do it.  But I won’t “go for a ride” if the weather is bad.

That’s where I draw the line.  I want to enjoy my time on the bike. I know that sometimes we all get caught in the rain. I can live with that. And I know that sometimes the wind comes up. I can live with that. But I won’t knowingly go for what’s supposed to be a fun ride over the lunch hour when that’s in the forecast.

That may change.  But for now, I’m a fairweather cyclist and I’m okay with that.