NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

When Ideal Is not an Option

Kern Finds Short Workout Better Than No Workout

Kern in mask and helmet, riding bicycle on path through wooded area
Year-round athlete Stuart Kern masked and in motion

The Record asked readers about their exercise regimens during cold weather. Stuart Kern, contract specialist, NIDA Office of Acquisition, NCATS section, replied below.

“I’m a year-round athlete, so the winter is always a time for working on my base conditioning in anticipation of cycling and running events later in the year.

Prior to the pandemic, my base miles were built into my commute. I biked the 8 miles from Silver Spring to my office at White Flint, and then extended my ride on the way home, or rode straight home and ran when I got there. With proper clothing and lights, I rode all through winter [2020] except those few days when we had ice or snow.

Once we were sent home, I shifted to single, longer rides or runs­—either before or after my work day. That’s great through the longer days of summer, but now in the winter I’ve shifted again. I enjoy running just before dawn, so on running days I get up and out early. On cycling days, I start my workday early and get out at lunchtime.

Bicycle, with male rider standing beside, at one side of a bridge
Kern, breaking for a bridge-crossing

I also try to work through a core strength and flexibility routine a few times a week. We have some simple resistance items—elastic bands, simple weights, an exercise ball, two teenagers—which provide adequate resistance workouts for the muscle groups I don’t use when cycling or running.

My biggest challenge is a mistaken notion that if I can’t do a full ideal workout—like three sets of all exercises or a long run or a long ride—that it’s not worth doing. I have to remind myself that one set of pushups, or a half-hour ride, or a run around the block is better than nothing at all. Likewise, it’s all too easy to go directly to my chair and not take any stretching breaks through the day. I try, with mixed success, to get out of my chair regularly and do that one set of pushups, or stretch while I’m making a cup of coffee, or push the teenagers out for a walk.

For motivation, I’ve signed up for a few races later this year. They may be cancelled or when the time comes I may not feel it’s safe to participate, but for now it gives me a target to shoot for. I follow friends on Strava, so we see each other’s workouts—we trade encouragement, and there’s the quiet satisfaction of knowing that I rode or ran on a colder or wetter day than they did. I also keep a simple written log of my workouts, so I can look back over the month and see whether I exercised on more days than I didn’t. I keep an eye on the weather forecast for the week, plan on taking the worst day as an intentional rest day, and commit to getting decent workouts on the days before that.”

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

Assistant Editor: Eric Bock (link sends e-mail)

Staff Writer: Amber Snyder (link sends e-mail)