April showers: Don't let your workout get rained out

By Anne-Marie McCoy, M.D., family medicine physician, Providence Medical Group-Mercantile

April showers eventually bring May flowers, we know – but in the meantime, they can really put a damper on our exercise plans. "I was going to go for a walk, but it’s raining, so…"

So what? Here in the "Northwet," rain could be the No. 1 excuse for bagging a workout, if you let it. But if your long-term goal is to exercise regularly – for your health, your energy, your mood, your sleep, your weight, your memory or a dozen other good reasons – then what you need is not an excuse, but a good backup plan.

I’ve found that a backup plan is as essential to life in Portland as a good raincoat. If it’s too wet for your usual walk, run or bike ride, what will you do instead?

Here is a two-pronged approach that will help you stay on track with your exercise goals, weather or not.

Become a weather opportunist

If you don’t like the weather, as they say in the Northwest, just wait an hour. The rain rarely lasts all day. Keep an eye on the window, and if you have some flexibility in your workday, take your breaks with the sun breaks. Dash outside for a quick 10-minute walk or jog to reduce stress, clear your head and break up your day. Do that two or three times and you’ll easily meet the recommended 30 minutes of exercise for the day.

If the rain looks like it’s settling in for the weekend, check the weather on the mountain. Chances are, it’ll be clear or snowy – perfect for spring skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing.

Shift to plan B

For those days when it’s really pouring, have a Plan B in place – something you’re ready to switch to at a moment’s notice, automatically, without having to ponder your options at all. Can’t think of anything? Here are 10 rainy-day exercise ideas:

1. Join a gym. That’s what I did when I moved here and found my runs getting rained out on a regular basis. Now, when it’s miserable out, I just do my run at the gym.

2. Dust off your home gym equipment. If you have an unused treadmill, ski machine or exercise bike gathering dust in a corner, dust it off – now you have a rainy-day backup plan. Don’t have anything like that? This is a great time of year to find used equipment online, on the cheap.

3. Beef up your muscles. Many people focus on aerobic activity, but neglect the equally important strength-training side of exercise. Use your rainy days to work on your muscles. Resistance exercises such as crunches, push-ups and lunges don’t require any equipment at all. You can add inexpensive dumbbells and resistance bands as your budget allows.

4. Jump rope. It’s the ultimate old-school aerobic workout. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can break a sweat. Try doing intervals, going slowly for two minutes and then all-out for 30 seconds, then slowly again. A 15-minute workout at high intensity counts the same, in terms of health benefits, as a 30-minute moderate workout.

5. Jump into a pool. Locate your closest community pool – they’re all over the place – and jump in for a swim or a water aerobics class. At the end of a dreary day, splashing around in a pool can feel like a refreshing summer flashback.

6. Try something new. Always wanted to learn tai chi? Or Pilates? Or yoga? Find a drop-in class nearby, go a couple of times to get to know the routine, and make that your backup plan. Heated yoga is an especially attractive option when it’s nasty out.

7. Join a team. A number of community centers offer indoor sports leagues in basketball, volleyball, badminton and soccer. Granted, if you join a league, this can’t just be a backup plan – you’ll need to be there regularly for your team. But what better way to keep yourself accountable?

8. Get your groove on. Dancing is one of the best ways to get in a workout while having fun. Sign up for tango, Cha-Cha or salsa lessons; take a Zumba class, or put on some music and bust some new moves at home.

9. Climb the corporate stairs. If you have stairs where you work, become a corporate climber on your breaks. Start with a couple of flights, and increase your pace and flights as you increase your fitness level. It’s such a good workout, you might find yourself continuing even when the weather is nice. But do be careful – change into sensible shoes first, and hang onto that railing.

10. Break into a cleaning frenzy. Rainy days are made for spring cleaning. But don’t think of it as work; think of it as a workout with benefits. Your workout equipment: A vacuum cleaner, mop, scrub brush and bucket. The workout: Clean, scrub and polish until your home sparkles and your forehead shines from the effort. Then look around at what you’ve accomplished – it’s like turning April showers into your own May flowers.

With a good backup plan in place, rain is no longer an excuse to ditch your exercise plans. Instead, it's a great excuse to keep your fitness routine interesting by shaking it up with new activities.

If walking or running outside is truly the one and only activity you enjoy, then maybe it’s time to invest in some good rain gear so you can keep it up, rain or shine. As I often tell my patients, if you can’t think of anything else to do, zip up your jacket and walk until something better comes along.