Wellness Wednesday: Mayo Clinic's Chad Asplund on winter fitness

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Dr. Chad Asplund.
Dr. Chad Asplund. (courtesy Mayo Clinic)
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It's never been more important to keep moving — even as winter comes and snow blankets Minnesota. Chad Asplund is a primary care and sports medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine in Minneapolis; he told The Current's Jill Riley how Gopher Staters can safely stay fit during the long winter months.

Listen to the interview above, and read a transcript of the complete conversation below. Every Wednesday morning at 8:30 CST, Jill connects with experts and local personalities for some real talk about keeping our minds and bodies healthy — from staying safe in the music scene, to exercising during a pandemic, to voting and civic engagement.

Looking for more resources and support? Visit our friends at Call to Mind, MPR's initiative to foster new conversations about mental health.

Exercise in a pandemic has been a challenge. We're about to head into the winter months, and I just thought it would be a good idea to talk about keeping our bodies physically active — and not just our bodies, but for me personally, it's just such a good release for my mind. What is the main benefit of exercise to our bodies and minds?

It has been shown to reduce or put off many chronic disease states, and it's been shown to really improve your mental health and your well-being. Twenty to 30 minutes of any sort of exercise, five or more days a week, is so beneficial. You know, in sports medicine we say that exercise is medicine — but really, movement is medicine and so if we can keep ourselves moving, there will be many, many benefits to be had from that.

I'm really busy right now. You know, I work in the morning, I do distance learning with my son in the afternoon...I just have this preconceived notion in my mind that I have to go at this vigorous pace for an hour or I don't have any benefits. I don't know where I picked that up along the way, but 20 to 30 minutes, that sounds pretty reasonable.

It really is, and it doesn't all need to be in a row. You can break it up into smaller pieces — sets of five or 10 minutes at a time — as long as you put time into your schedule and make an effort to be active, there will be many benefits to be had from that.

Well, exercising in a pandemic...I mean, certainly for folks who have done their exercising or their routine in a gym, some people still choosing to go to a gym, some people are choosing to stay away right now. Do you have some tips for exercising during this time?

Absolutely. A lot of people like to go to the gym when they exercise, and I still think there are safe ways to go to the gym when you exercise. When looking at your gym, you should think really about three things. First, is the gym limiting the amount of people in the space at a time? Is there enough space between the people that are in the gym to allow at least ten feet between people? And does the gym have a period of time where they actually pause or time-out to do periodic deep-cleaning of the gym...cleaning the equipment, that sort of thing? If you have a gym that meets those criteria, I do think it could be safe to use gyms during the winter or to exercise inside.

What about folks that are just feeling a little leery about gathering with people inside of a health club or a gym. What are some things that people can do at home?

There's been such a big explosion of home-based possibilities. Now there's a lot of subscription-based services or app-based services that you can pay for and do if that's what you're interested in, but there's just as many free things that you can find online or on YouTube where you can do — where you can do yoga, whether it's high-intensity exercise, bodyweight training, things like that, that there's lots of things you can do. One of the things that I think is really helpful for people, and it came out probably ten years ago, there was a scientifically validated seven-minute workout where they run you through a series of 12 exercises, 30 seconds each exercise, 10 seconds rest, but the only thing that you need is your body and a chair. You can cycle through that once for seven minutes, twice for 14, three times for 21 — whatever you have time for and the motivation to do, but there's plenty of things that you can do at home.

We've had some really nice weather this fall, and so for me personally it's been really easy to get out and take a walk in the neighborhood, and I know plenty of people that do their winter exercise outside. But I also know plenty — speaking for myself as well — where I can really slip into an inactive mode in winter. What are the dangers of falling into that kind of routine, where it comes to winter and I'm not moving my body?

Well, I think winter is especially challenging as it gets dark earlier and you're inside. If you kind of fall out of your exercise routine, your mental health can struggle. You can develop or worsen some seasonal-affective disorder where your mood is low because you're inside, it's dark, and you're not exercising. Adding any amount of exercise will be able to elevate your mood, will be able to make you feel better. Getting outside is also possible if you dress appropriately and pay attention to the temperature and the wind chill and you stay out for a brief period of time, so I do think there are plenty of options in the winter.

I was recently talking with somebody who works in the outdoor apparel industry, and his prediction is that snowshoeing is going to be really big this year.

Well, I hope he's wrong because I hope there's not enough snow for snowshoeing, but having been in Minnesota long enough, I'm sure there will be. The beauty about something like snowshoeing or even walking outside is that you're not going fast enough to create your own wind, and so you can dress warm to the point where you're not either too cold or too hot, and I do think with the appropriate gear, low-intensity outdoor exercise can be very helpful.

A few years ago I invested in a treadmill, and I am very happy and proud to report that it is not just an extra place to throw my laundry — that I've actually been using it. There's some days where I'm so tired, I don't want to do it, but once I start walking, I instantly feel better...and I always know that feeling is going to come, but for some reason I just, you know, there's that barrier getting there. And then my son, he's almost five, and he's got one of those little trampolines in our basement. It's just kind of a fun way for us to...you know, he'll jump on his trampoline, I'll walk on my treadmill. It's been a pretty easy thing to fall into, but it's also an easy thing to fall out of.

Absolutely. I think you touched on something important, and you know, it sounds like when you're on the treadmill and your son is on the trampoline, you know, you're keeping it fun, and sometimes if you think of it as exercise, it becomes drudgery. But as long as you're doing something to move, and if you can do it as a family or as a couple, or more than yourself, it just makes it a lot easier. There was a study done by the University of Tennessee about 10-12 years ago which showed that while you're watching an hour of TV, if you get up during the commercials and you just march in place, that you'll burn 250 calories and you'll get 22 minutes of physical activity just while you're sitting on your couch watching TV.

I'm sold! I like to hear about studies like that. But I will tell you about one thing I've been doing. It's called "Jeopardy! and 'milling." I don't allow myself to watch Jeopardy! in the afternoon unless I'm walking on my treadmill, and that's an easy way for me to get in a half-hour.

That's a great plan. I had a friend of mine from college that watched a lot of sports on the weekend and gained a lot of weight after college, and he put an exercise bike in front of the TV and figured if he was going to watch sports, he would be riding the exercise bike, and he lost 56 pounds through a football season. So, I mean, there are benefits to be had, if you're going to be in front of a device, to doing a slow walk or a bike or some sort of activity while you're doing it — both for the benefit, but also allow that screen time to be a reward for the activity you've put in. As we've been cooped up inside and there's uncertainty — whether it's with the pandemic or other social things — anxiety can build, and exercise is really an excellent way to help with anxiety, to help boost the mood. And so, again, I keep saying exercise, but I should really be saying movement. And so just being active will help with your anxiety, with depression, with your mood. Just being active is very helpful.


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