Thursday, February 04, 2016

Half Way to Springtime 

At the ironically named "Coldest Day of the Year Ride", Saturday January 30, when it was about 5°C. Photo via Mary Jo Pollak

This has been an exceptional winter so far in Toronto. As I write this the current temperature is 10°C. There isn’t a speck of snow to be seen and a few of my morning bike commutes have felt more like Spring than the dead of winter. There have been a few very cold days (like -25 cold) but not many. It has mostly been “Seasonal” (read: normal) or unseasonably warm (read: abnormal). One unexpected result has been my health.

The past three winters have seen me struggle with what might be Seasonal Affective Disorder or might also be called being a big fat lazy jerk. I would come home from work feeling drugged and immediately collapse into a heap and sleep for an hour or more. I’ve just read that napping for 20 minutes is probably fine or typical but more than that, you can experience “sleep inertia” where the grogginess of napping too long means you don’t feel fully awake until the time you are actually meant to go to bed. Then of course, you cannot sleep. All of this led me to eating a big meal late in the evening and passing on exercise until tomorrow but tomorrow was just more of yesterday. Inevitably, I would decline into poor health whereby climbing a set of stairs was like climbing Denali (previously Mt. McKinley) and I would pack somewhere between 10-15 lbs in my personal carry-on (aka “love handles”, “muffin tops” “paunch” or “buddha belly”). Then in March (or April or May) I would decide this could not stand and would then throw myself into the Sisyphean task of exercising my way back to my pre-winter weight. Sometimes I’d lose the weight by June or July but last year, by that time I had only lost about 5 pounds of the 15 I had gained. Last summer I finally put my nose to the grindstone and lost all that weight and then some. This winter I joined a gym to make sure I didn’t gain any to have to lose in the first place (in my experience, lost weight is often found), I’ve been taking my vitamins, basking in daylight and avoiding blue light-emitting screens. In short, I’ve been a very good boy.

So far, so good. I did gain a couple of pounds over the holidays but I’ve since lost that and a bit more. I’d love to tell you it was my devotion to exercise and nutrition that has made me a lesser man, but that, sadly isn’t true. I haven’t really changed my diet and while I’m still exercising it is less than I did in the autumn. The real reason has probably been three fold.

One: the very amiable weather means I’m still biking and not just to work but everywhere. To exhibitions, to public meetings, to advocacy meetings, to the library, to movies, to get groceries or beer. That means I get outside more; more fresh air; more daylight; more naturally sourced vitamin D. The clear sidewalks and streets means I’ve even gone for a few runs too.

Two: For the last three years, I worked in a dark corner of a dark office, but now work sitting next to wall of glass with a view of the city and Lake Ontario, meaning again, actually seeing more daylight.

Three: Ok, I still go to the gym or workout 5-6 times a week, so that’s got to help.

The difference for me has been amazing. I don’t go home and flop on the couch. I don’t feel like a slug. I don’t behave like a grumpy hibernating bear and I haven’t put on any weight. There’s only one problem. As I write this we’re only 45 days through winter with 45 days left. At least two prognosticating groundhogs from local Groundhog Days have died. February could bring all manner of winter’s mettle upon us and don’t even talk about March’s "in like a lion out like a lamb" reputation. For all I know by March 20th, my body weight may have doubled consisting mostly of Oreo filling, I may have finished a novel length suicide note called “Cabin Fever Dream", while my bike has rusted and my gym shoes disintegrated from disuse.

But I’m sure it’ll be fine.

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