If you've ever found yourself getting out of your car in the gym parking lot on a perfectly temperate, sunny day and felt guilty for going indoors to exercise, you are not alone.
Don't beat yourself up. You actually might be doing the best thing for your overall health. Ignoring the great weather and schlepping through your gym program as if it were raining and cold might help keep you on track with your exercise routine.
Local fitness experts and athletes say you should consider a number of factors when deciding whether to take your workout indoors or out this winter, and realize that both have advantages and disadvantages.
"Outside, you may be dealing with sun, rain, snow, wind and ice, not to mention the safety factors that exist out there," says Ian Torrence, manager of Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland and a member of Team Rogue Valley Runners, an elite squad of local running racers. "You have to be more perceptive regarding your surroundings and pay attention."
The conditions outside can send even the most die-hard outdoor athletes like Torrence indoors. For the rest of us, having to face ruined mascara or being seen in public with bare thighs are hard enough mental barriers to overcome; falling on ice or suffering from pollinated, irritated nasal passages will quickly wipe out anyone's training plans.
Traffic on a running route or even the bike path can get dangerous at certain times of the day, and exhaust from cars whizzing by is neither tasty nor healthful. Airborne pollutants and allergens can send some people to the medicine cabinet rather than to the next 10K, so working out inside rather than outside in order to avoid those irritants is nothing to sneeze at.
"If you have allergies, you should probably work out when you can minimize your exposure, but timing that is not always easy or even possible," says Dr. Kent DeYarman of DeYarman Allergy & Asthma Clinic in Medford.
DeYarman, a board-certified allergist, is an avid outdoor runner who is "terribly bored" by indoor training.
"If you are dealing with allergies or airway irritation to the point of skipping your exercise, you need to seek treatment or ask to have your current treatment modified," DeYarman says. "There are enough options to ensure your quality of life is not diminished."
That said, he admits that in this valley's peak allergy and fire seasons, avoidance is justifiable. He recommends measures like sleeping with the windows shut and air conditioning on, as well as running in the opposite direction of the mower and weed-whacker.
Dr. Edwin Kerwin, an allergist and internist at the Allergy & Asthma Center of Southern Oregon, agrees, but says it depends on the situation.
"Sometimes the outdoor air is cleaner than the air in a home, especially if pets live there. Many Americans don't go outside for long enough to get adequate vitamin D, and getting some sun exposure can combat that deficiency while allowing for the diversity an outdoor workout provides."
Riding, skating, walking or running outside is more enjoyable for a lot of people, even when the outdoor environment is less than ideal.
"It's different from person to person, but for me, time goes by more quickly when I'm running outside," Torrence says. "I like to be out in nature and take in the sights. Conversely, I know people who favor passing that time exercising in front of the television screen."
Making a proactive choice to get out there and get moving rather than trying to work out at home is, for many, the only way it will happen. Everyone knows that the minute you get ready to work out, the phone will ring or the kids will need something to eat. Grabbing the keys and heading to the gym might be the best way to get your daily prescription for heart health (and sometimes your sanity) filled.
If your goal is to exceed your current state of fitness, continually upping the intensity and pace is vital. Indoor workouts sometimes make that easier.
On a treadmill, for example, you set the pace and the difficulty level, and the machine largely dictates your movement. If you are outside, especially without a partner pushing you along, it can be easier to slack off on your speed. Being inside, at the mercy of the machine's torture settings, may translate to a better workout.
The social aspect of indoor workouts also can be a motivator. Interaction between friends or acquaintances at the gym — even if the extent of the interaction is just a nod — can keep you coming back.
"I think we should not say 'outdoors' is better for you than 'indoors,' or vice versa," Torrence says. "The important thing is that we find a way to fit exercise in our daily lives."