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Heart Health is Head Health

Get out and stay out

Anyone who lives with me knows that if I don’t get regular exercise, I become irritable, impatient and several other adjectives that are not very gentlemanly. The older I get –and I’m feeling pretty old nowadays— the more I realize that exercising is just as good for my mental health as it is for my physical health. Simply put, my brain is encased in my body, so if my body is running right, my brain runs right[er].

I mean, we all have our problems, but if I can take my brain outdoors a few times a week for some ‘me time’ everyone is happier.

We’re all very fortunate to live in a beautiful state that has more dry days than wet, which means that unless there’s a lot of snow on the ground or driving rain, most days you can bundle up and head out. This makes getting outside less a question of whether or not to go outside and more a question of how to get outside. I’ll show you how to dress for success, so you’ll be off and running (dad joke!) in the beautiful Colorado outdoors. If you’ve ever watched those weirdos running around in the freezing cold and wondered how they do that, it’s just that they know how to dress for success and how good it feels to get out and run around. You can BE one of those weirdos!

I’ll admit that I’ve stood at my doorway and sniffed the crisp morning air like a groundhog and then gone back to bed. Bed is good; there’s no arguing with that. It can be daunting to leave the warmth of indoors on a cold day, but I’m going to give you some of the steps to get you out of bed or off that couch, get you dressed, out the door, and on the road.

The first step is to get up. You are gonna have to get up at some point anyway, so you may as well do something good for yourself. The next step is to build you a cozy, little cocoon to carry some of your warmth with you.

The next step is to head to the closet. We’re going to build your cocoon out of clothes you probably already have. The first layer and the last layer will be the most important. The first layer is all about catching your warmth and the last is about holding your warmth. The ones in between are where things get personalized.

Dig out that old turtleneck you haven’t worn since your least-favorite cousin’s piano recital. Check the tag. If it says polyester or acrylic or wool, it’s probably the perfect baselayer. It has a built-in neck gaiter and a roll-up mask! That sweltering, strangling feeling you had the whole time your cousin was mechanically pounding out songs by old guys you’ve never heard of, can now be replaced with a feeling of smug thriftiness. Seriously, there are tons of expensive purpose-built running tops, but the difference is not all that much. Next, go to the dresser and pull out the sweatpants that are usually used for lounging on the couch. Those pantlegs will run like they were meant to. Grab a pair of dress socks that just don’t match anything. They are probably the same material as expensive running socks. People will think you’re a weirdo anyway, so dress the part. Finally, stop at the coat closet and pull out the windbreaker that’s stayed smashed between two down coats – the one that hasn’t seen the light of day since it was given to you for free. It’s okay to feel a little bit smart for saving money, time and finally using some stuff that would otherwise have landed in a giveaway box? These free pieces can serve as the structure of your own personal cocoon. Of course, don’t forget your shoes. Some days, this is all you’ll need to keep you warm enough.

As anyone who has lived here for awhile knows, the weather always changes. And so should you. Part of running is being aware of how you feel and adjusting your wardrobe, your pace and maybe your frame of mind. You may need to add another layer of insulation under your windbreaker if it’s particularly cold. Or you may want to switch to shorts if it’s unseasonably warm. You may decide that it’s okay to be a little cold. This is where your own experience becomes part of the cocoon. You bring your brain with you on every trip out the door, so use it. As you run, take a little time to feel what’s happening to you. Are your hands cold? Are your feet sweating? Do you really need to worry about <insert problem here>? When you’re out in the weather, you’re participating in an ever-changing system where you don’t have as much control as usual, but you do have control of yourself. Live in these moments.

Staying warm is no sweat. Really. Don’t sweat and you’ll stay warm. Running generates a lot of heat; you don’t have to run very fast to overcome the cold outside air. It is sweat’s job to cool you down when you’re in danger of overheating. Colorado has generally dry air, which means that your own sweat is a great indicator that you’re getting too warm and that you need to release some heat. Try unzipping your windbreaker a little to vent excess heat and dry the sweat. If you’re still sweating, take it off. One of the reasons I recommend windbreakers is that they are generally very light, and you can mash one down enough to carry it in one hand. A good windbreaker creates air space between your skin and the wind, but slowly lets out more heat and sweat vapor than you’ll notice. As an aside about waterproof-breathable jackets; they are neither. Staying cool isn’t hard either, if you pay attention. In this way, running can be kind of meditative.

Once you step back through your door and emerge from your cocoon like a smelly butterfly, take note of what worked so you can repeat or what needs some tweaking. It may be time to go shopping if you learn that you really need something. With the internet available at our very fingertips, it’s easier than ever to research and then wait for a sale. I have amassed a considerable pile of running gear over the years, but never at full price. Running gear is usually reasonably priced and lasts a long time. Most of what I wear out is the tread and cushion on running shoes, which then become casualwear.

There will be times when the snow is deep or the rain is hard. That’s when it’s a good idea to stay home and shovel the driveway or maybe pull out that yoga video you’ve been meaning to try the past four years. Sometimes the right choice is to go back to bed. Once you’ve got a routine in place, you’ll already have that time built into your schedule. Choose your own limits and watch the sky so you don’t get caught in a rain and have to hurry home. It also pays to have a backup or to plan around the forecast. There are some very fancy, free weather apps that can get Colorado weather right much of the time. Pick one and check it before you go outdoors. I’ve done this long enough to know what I’m going to wear based on the temperature range and windspeed. This reduces the brainpower needed and negates excuses to stay in. We actually had significant humidity this week and it didn’t seem to affect me nearly as much as I expected. I’m still learning what works and what doesn’t.

In summary, get out. Stay out for a while. Dive into the out-of-doors because it’s still a big world out there. Outside your door, you can see the bunnies playing in the street or hear the red-tailed hawks and red-wing blackbirds through your window. And you won’t be able to see all those people in their houses, looking at the weirdo running in the freezing cold.