Category Archives: exercise

My Secret

I have a secret that I want to share with you, but you have to promise to not tell anyone.  Do you promise? If the answer is “No,” stop reading now.

Before I reveal my secret, I want to tell you a little bit about my wife, Julie.  When I met Julie, she was an avid runner, and that habit continued throughout most of our marriage.  You may have noticed that I used the word “habit” rather than “hobby.” My choice of words was not random.  A habit implies a repeated behavior incorporated into one’s psyche, where a hobby is a pleasurable leisure activity.

Julie loved to run. Running gave her energy and made her feel emotionally happy. Several years ago, she had a knee surgery that resulted in a bad outcome. That ended her running career.  This was devastating to her, and she grieves the loss to this very day. To understand why that is the case, you need to learn just a little about how the brain works. 

A structure in Julie’s brain, the nucleus accumbens (NA), becomes more active when she runs. The NA is part of the brain’s reward pathway.  This is a pathway that is activated to reinforce behaviors that are necessary for species survival. Have you ever eaten a great meal and had a sense of ease and contentment afterward?  When someone gives you a genuine hug, does it feel wonderful? Do you feel happy and mellow after a positive sexual experience? What you are feeling is an activation of the reward pathway; all of these activities are directly or indirectly necessary for our species’ survival. 

There are ways to corrupt this pathway.  Drugs of addiction, including cocaine, heroin, and alcohol, abnormally activate the reward pathway.  Process addictions, like shopping and gambling, also activate this connection.  The reward pathway doesn’t have logic; it is reflexive. When a drug like cocaine activates it, the brain assumes that cocaine is necessary for survival. Your brain seeks out cocaine, and an addiction is born. 

The reward pathway’s sensitivity is governed by several factors, including a person’s genes, and different brains are likely activated by different things.  Alcohol may over-activate one person’s brain but not others. Likewise, exercise may be triggering for one individual but not so much for someone else.

Why would one person’s NA be highly sensitive to exercise when another person is not? Is physical exercise necessary for species survival?  As a species, we need physically active members.  However, exercise is less important than eating or procreation.  If you have more active and less active individuals, your overall species survival may be enhanced.  Individuals who like to exercise could become warriors and builders.  Those who prefer a more sedentary lifestyle would be content serving in other important but less physically demanding roles. 

Our automated lifestyles are very recent in our evolution; everyone had to exercise to some degree in the past.  However, over the last decades, the physical demands of humans in developed countries have diminished exponentially.  We can order our groceries online, drive to our appointments, and even use a “robot” to vacuum our carpets. Our increasingly sedentary lives have had increased health consequences ranging from obesity to dementia. Since we don’t have to toil in the fields, some go for a run or spend time at the gym.  For someone like my wife, it is easy to adopt an exercise program. Why? Because she has  direct emotional and physical benefits from exercising.  Who doesn’t like doing things that feel good?

Here is my secret, I don’t feel good when I exercise.  In fact, I feel sort of lousy when I do it.  I used to feel guilty that I hated exercise.  I thought that there was something wrong with me or that I was just plain lazy.  However, I now know that my brain just operates differently than some. Yet, I know that it is essential for me to be physically active.  How does someone like me exercise regularly?  How do I turn a negative into a positive? 

When I married Julie, I was carried away by her exercise enthusiasm. I outfitted my basement with thousands of dollars of gym equipment.  Every day I would force myself to go into the cellar and exercise.  Every day I hated it. Despite my feelings, I exercised for over a year until I had a minor injury.  I then stopped altogether.

Many years ago, my friend Tom encouraged me to join his gym.  I would meet him at 5 AM most days before I worked with my personal trainer.  Afterward, we would have coffee. I looked forward to going to the gym and reaped the benefits of all of my physical activity.  After some time, Tom’s schedule changed, and he stopped coming.  By then, I had established myself with some of the other gym rats who welcomed me into their fold.  However, I found myself getting bored, and soon I came up with reasons to sleep in. The new reward didn’t offset the pain. 

I knew that I had to do something physically, so I came up with another plan. I would get up very early and walk to my local Starbucks-a round trip of 3.5 to 4.5 miles, depending on my chosen route. I do enjoy walking, thinking, and meditating. At Starbucks, I formed friendships with some of the customers and had good relationships with the baristas.  As a bonus, Tom would visit me on occasion.  However, the real draw was that I used my time at the Starbucks to write, and I even had a dedicated table at the coffee shop. I was motivated to walk every day and did it one day when it was -27F outside.  Unfortunately, all of that ended with the onset of the pandemic.

Walking and hiking are my favorite exercises, as they have many sensory dimensions.  Movement for the sake of activity doesn’t do it for me.  Exploring nature is motivating, but unless the scenery is incredibly engaging, it is still insufficient to get me out of bed every morning. I have found that I must combine my walking with another activity.  Tom bought a townhome closer to my home, and I’m motivated to walk there to visit with him.  My kids like to walk, and it is enjoyable for me to walk and talk with them.  I also like to walk somewhere with a purpose.  For instance, I don’t mind walking to our local market to pick up a few groceries.  I have found that combining exercise with something that I enjoy reinforces my desire to be active.

I have also come to realize that some exercise is better than no exercise. In a perfect world, I would do various exercises that increased many aspects of my physical well being.  However, I don’t live in an ideal world.  Instead of constantly feeling guilty that I’m not doing enough, I am committed to celebrating what I am doing.  Such an attitude promotes the continuation of a behavior.  Guilt often has the opposite effect.

If I can pair a positive with something that I don’t want to do, it is much easier for me to accomplish my goal.  This has been the case with exercising regularly, and I also do this “combining” technique for many other things that range from making dinner for my family to paying bills.

I pass this idea to you.  Are there things that you need to do in your life that you procrastinate around?  Consider pairing them with something that you do like, and you will probably have more success in accomplishing your goals.



I like to walk in nature. I can enter a walking path very close to my home.
Trees give me a feeling of comfort.
This path abuts a river.
Walking with a practical goal motivates me. Here I walked to my local market to buy a few things for dinner.
It is important to plan ahead. A shoulder bag makes the return trip home easy-hauling a number of plastic bags would be a drag.
I love looking at scenery when I walk. Here I’m spying some graffiti on a viaduct.
I love walking with my kids.
Here I’m walking by our carillon. It serenades our downtown on the hour.
The only exercise equipment that I need is a decent pair of shoes.

Gear That I Use To Walk In Any Type Of Winter Weather

Some years ago I committed myself to work out regularly. I started my exercise journey by walking, but several years ago I transitioned from this to using a personal trainer at a gym. The big draw for me to go to the gym was that I would typically coffee klatch with my friend, who also went there at the same time.

I enjoyed going to the gym, but it wasn’t my favorite type of exercise. Eventually, I got injured and around that same time, my friend got tired of going. It was time to re-think my routine.

I returned to walking, which is an exercise that I love. I typically walk between 3.5 to 4.5 miles on any given morning, and I usually start in the pre-dawn. During my walk, I can think, pray, or meditate. I time my walk, so I arrive at my local Starbucks when it opens for the day.

I bring along a computer on my walks, and Starbucks is where I write this blog. My friend, Tom often stops to visit, but when he doesn’t, I now know enough regulars that I can always engage in a little conversation. For me, walking outdoors is an ideal exercise, but it does have its pitfalls.

The main barrier when I walk is the weather. In northern Illinois, we have four seasons that are often dramatic. In the last few years, our winters have become milder, but this has posed a new problem for me as it isn’t uncommon to have warm days of rain/sleet/melt followed by cold days, which results in super slippery ice formation.

Bad weather would be an easy excuse for me to stay in bed, but as I tell my kids, There are no emergencies for those who are prepared. In today’s post, I want to share with you the gear that I use to walk in just about any winter weather. I’ll give you what I wear on a typical winter day, a bad winter day, and a horrible winter day. Your mileage may vary depending on your needs and climate.

About Gear Quality

It is easy to say, Buy only the highest quality winter wear. It is true that better quality gear works better and lasts longer. However, it is also expensive. I take a balanced approach. The more regularly I use a winter gear item, the better the quality.

I have a great Cabelas down coat and several different types of footwear that are pretty decent. I wear these items every time I go out, and I need functional items that last. However, I only wear thermal underwear a few times a season. In that case, I opted for an inexpensive but reasonably rated pair purchased from Amazon. I know that they won’t last as well as Under Armour gear, but I don’t need them to.

About layering

Several layers of clothing work better than one heavy layer as each layer traps air, which serves as insulation. Layers are typically lighter than one heavy layer and they can be removed or added as your situation changes. Consider layers when you walk in the winter.

What I wear


Typical Day: Stocking cap and jacket hood.
Bad Day: All of the above, plus a thermal face mask.
Horrible Day: Trooper hat, hood, face mask, scarf protecting mouth and nose, inexpensive ski goggles.


Typical Day: flannel shirt, Cabela’s down jacket, scarf on the chest.
Bad Day: The above plus a hoodie.
Horrible Day: Thermal undershirt, flannel shirt, hoodie, Cabela’s down jacket.


Typical Day: Gloves
Bad Day: Gloves
Horrible Day: Gloves with hand warmers
Note: I usually like good ski type gloves, but I always lose them, and I’m usually stuck with the crappy gloves that I never seem to lose (go figure).


Typical Day: Jeans or pants
Bad Day: Jeans
Horrible Day: Jeans plus thermal underwear.
Note: After recently walking at -24F with a windchill of -50F I have now ordered a pair of snow pants.


Typical Day: waterproof hiking boots (Vasque) or ducks, or Bogs (depending on outside wetness), warm socks.
Bad Day: as above
Horrible Day: As above, plus a double pair of warm socks or good wool socks.

Extra Gear

Ice cleats for shoes

There are several brands of ice cleats; I use a one called YakTrax. They have been an absolute game-changer for me, and without them, I would probably stay in bed about 30% of the time. Ice is my most feared challenge, but I’m relatively confident going out when I’m wearing cleats. I highly recommend them.


An umbrella is surprisingly useful in winter and can turn a miserable sleety/snowy walk into an OK one. I only think about umbrellas when I need them, and most of the ones in our closet were bought as impulse purchases at big box stores. They fail in every way that you could imagine, and they are frustrating to use. They should be avoided. Last year I bought a Totes standard umbrella, and I have not looked back. Cheap umbrellas fail when you need them the most, brand name offerings will save you money in the long run.

Shoe Dryer

There is nothing more miserable than walking in wet shoes. Besides, wet shoes and warm feet create the perfect environment for smelly bacteria and fungus. No one wants to clear a room when they take off their shoes. Several years ago I purchased a shoe dryer. This is a simple and inexpensive device that consists of a circulating fan with two arms that you hang your of shoes on. The interior breeze quickly dries wet shoes and yields happy, fresh springtime feet.

Thoughts On Shoes

The most important foot factor is comfort when it comes to walking. For me, comfort means dry and well-supported feet. I have three different pairs of shoes to accomplish these goals. You may require only one pair, or you may need more than three. Footwear is entirely a personal choice.

Vasque Waterproof Hiking Shoes

I bought my hikers at The Shoebox in Black Earth Wisconsin. I was hiking in cheap hikers in the rain and ruined them and so I went shopping. I was interested in getting a good pair of shoes and wanted one that wouldn’t get soaked. My shoes have a Gore Tex lining to keep my feet dry. However, there is a dark side to this technology as once water gets in (via the top the shoe) it has a hard time getting out. A shoe dryer comes in handy for this problem.

Generic Duck Shoes

I bought these classic waterproof shoes on Amazon and mine are serviceable, but slightly too large. They serve my purpose well enough that I don’t feel a need to replace them. These are great when there are puddles or light snow as they have a higher water barrier than my hiking shoes.


For many years I wore cheap, pull on boots for snow blowing. They were junk and were guaranteed to spring a leak within 2 winter seasons. About 10 years ago I bought a pair of Bogs boots, and I’m still using that pair today. Bogs boots are well made, and they slip on easily. They don’t offer the support of my hiking shoes, and so I only use them when I’m dealing with poor conditions, such as newly fallen deep snow. If you are planning on being away for the day, I would advise that you bring a second pair of shoes to change into. In a typical indoor environment, Bogs make your feet hot, sweaty and uncomfortable.


I am a multi-tasker, and I often write when I arrive at Starbucks. I bring a small messenger bag with a shoulder strap when I walk. In it, I carry a lightweight laptop, a spiral notebook, pens, earbuds, a book, and a couple Zyrtec for my allergic friend who occasionally forgets to take his at home. I really like having a grab-and-go bag that doesn’t require any additional early morning thought.

Other Important Items

You don’t need to take a lot when you walk, but I would advise taking your cell phone, as well as ID and some cash. Other items (like Bluetooth headphones) can be added based on your particular walking style.

High Vis Gear

I have to be honest, as I don’t currently have any High Vis gear. I took a short pause writing this and logged onto Amazon and just bought some. High Vis gear is cheap, and it isn’t necessary to get anything elaborate. Any hardware store will sell you a vest for a few dollars and for a few bucks more you can get jogging style gear that is sleek and very reflective. Some items even light up.

When Not To Walk

I am ready to walk in almost any condition, but there are rare times when I opt to stay home. I recently walked when it was -24F with a windchill of -50F and I was well prepared. However, I lost my ice cleats on that walk, and because of this, I felt it would be dangerous to walk the following day. As soon as a new pair of cleats arrived, I was walking again. The question of when not to walk is contingent on both the weather and the individual. Use common sense when embarking on any adventure.

Walking Indoors

If you don’t want to face the elements, you can also walk indoors. Many health clubs are reasonably priced, and park district gyms often will allow residents to walk for free. You can also tool around a shopping mall or big box store if they are available in your area.

Final Thoughts

You don’t need a lot of fancy gear to walk in just about any type of weather. However, you need to plan accordingly. Walking is free and offers benefits beyond exercise.