February 2007 Issue
Out & About
It's cold outside, but you don't have to stay in. We've compiled a state's worth of ways to get fit and have fun.
It's February, and statistically speaking that means your desire to get in shape this year has since been replaced by your desire to stay warm, dry and up to date on "Dancing With the Stars."
We understand. The average high in February in central Ohio is just 39 degrees, and the average low comes in at a chilly 22 degrees, according to ask.com. But as you contemplate turning last month's stack of "Ten Ways to Tone, Trim and Tighten" articles into fire fuel, isn't there a small part of you that wants to stay strong, healthy, well-rested, happy and flu-free for the rest of the season?
"There is benefit from any little bit of exercise you can get," says Dr. Susan Joy, the director of Women's Sports Health at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. "The more structure there is to your plan, the greater the benefit, of course, but some is certainly better than none." It's well known that exercise has many positive effects, not the least of which are better sleep, a strengthened immune system and a better mood. "Natural mood-elevating endorphins circulate in your body in response to exercise," says Joy. "That can be particularly important during the winter."
We're not fitness experts, but we do know enough about the state to tell you that it's stocked with inexpensive, interesting reasons for you to get off the couch and get your blood pumping. We've compiled both indoor and outdoor options, but first, a little common-sense advice before you head out: "If you're going outside, you need to be appropriately attired," says Joy. "That means dress in layers and make sure your head is covered." Joy also suggests tying a scarf around your mouth to help warm the air you're breathing when it's particularly chilly. But her most important suggestion: "If you're starting a new program, check with a doctor first."
"A lot of people experience a touch of seasonal affective disorder in the winter," says Jennifer Hinton, Ph.D., an associate professor in the School of Recreation and Sports Science and the coordinator of the Recreation Studies Program at Ohio University in Athens. "Our bodies need fresh air and sunshine. In Ohio, the lack of sunshine we're exposed to in the winter can make our bodies unable to properly process vitamins." According to Hinton, studies indicate that spending even an hour outdoors every day reduces the incidence of flu. Getting outside during daylight hours also increases levels of serotonin, a hormone that helps calm cravings.
Of all the winter sports, this one packs the biggest calorie-burning punch (about 650 calories per 60 minutes for a 160-pound individual). Twenty-five of Ohio's state parks open their trails to cross-country skiers when there's three inches of snow on the ground. www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks or 614/265-6561.
Some top-notch trails include:
Malabar Farm State Park, Lucas, www.malabarfarm.org or 419/892-2784, offers adult ski rentals for $5 per hour.
Oak Openings Preserve Cross-Country Ski Trail is a four-mile loop through this beautiful spot in Toledo's Metro-
parks. www.metroparkstoledo.com or 419/360-9179. Rentals not available.
Quail Hollow State Park, Hartville, has 18 miles of trails and rentals for $7 per hour for adults. www.dnr.ohio.gov/parks/parks/quailhlw.htm or 330/877-1528.
For a 160-pound individual, snowshoeing can burn up to 500 calories per hour, according to the calorie counter on shape.com. One of the best places to try it out is in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where you need only two inches of snow to get started. www.dayinthevalley.com or 800/445-9667, $3 per rental.
There's no shortage of hiking in this state, but as far as we're concerned, all trails are not created equal. One of the prettiest and best-kept hiking secrets is a spot called Airplane Rock in the Hocking Hills. The views from the top beat even those of the rim trail at Conkle's Hollow. Consider this your payoff, since the 15-or-more-minute walk from the road is entirely uphill. You'll definitely need a map to find it the first time you go. www.1800hocking.com or 800/462-5464.
Other hilly hikes include:
Highbanks Metro Park has about 11 miles of trails that take you up and down and offer pretty views of the Olentangy State Scenic River. Lewis Center near Columbus, www.metro parks.net/ParksHighbanks.aspx or 614/891-0700.
Hinckley Hills Loop Trail in Medina County is just 2.5 rugged and beautiful miles, but can easily be made into a longer hike with nearby Hinckley Lake and Whipp's Ledges loop trails. www.clemetparks.com or 216/635-3286.
Zaleski State Forest has 23 hilly miles of hiking trails plus guaranteed wild turkey sightings. www.dnr.state.oh.us/forestry/Forests/zaleski.htm or 740/596-7481.
You're never too old for this one, and visiting a sledding hill at a state park means more amenities when you need a break. Maumee Bay State Park in the northwest has a spot called "the big hill." "It's 48 feet high and approximately 400 feet long," says Denham, the assistant park manager at Maumee. Since this area is notoriously flat, the hill is man-made, and strategically positioned to allow for a viewing station at the top that overlooks Lake Erie. www.maumeebaystatepark.org or 419/836-7758
Other hills you'll want to visit include:
Kendall Hills in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, www.dayinthe valley.com or 800/445-9667.
Malabar Farm State Park features one hill that's about the length of a football field. Bring your own sled or rent one for $2. www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/parks/malabar.htm or 419/892-3988.
Punderson State Park has 125 feet of sledding with lights, so the fun doesn't have to stop when the sun goes down. www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/parks/punderson.htm or 440/564-2279.
It's basic, it's beneficial, and best of all it's free. But for a lot of people, it doesn't sound like much fun. Hinton says if you're dragging your feet, one of the best things you can do is grab a partner or join a walking club. "Having a type of social ramification really helps," she says. "I have a walking partner. We meet once a week, and I actually put â€˜MH' for mental health on my calendar to remind me of our meeting." During the winter, finding cleared paths can be an issue. "Universities usually have cleared sidewalks because of the liability," says Hinton. "But really, set a mileage goal, grab a friend, bundle up and get out there."
Some walking spots we like include:
The Lake Isaac Trail at Big Creek Reservation: Four-mile, flat trail, offering waterfowl sightings and a pretty view of Baldwin Creek. Middleburg Heights, www.clemetparks.com or 216/635-3286.
Hockhocking Adena Bikeway: Nineteen-mile, flat trail that stretches from Nelsonville to Athens. www.seorf.ohiou.edu/~xx088 or 800/878-9767.
The Kokosing Gap Trail: Fourteen-mile paved trail stretching between Danville and Mt. Vernon, with a restored train caboose along the way. www.visitknoxohio.org or 800/837-5282.
The Ohio University Campus in Athens: Georgian-style architecture, clear paths and hills you won't forget. www.ohio.edu or 740/593-1000.
Walk for Wildlife
Winter is a prime time to spot birds, mice, deer, rabbits, wild turkeys and other creatures, and the snow makes spotting their tracks easier than in warmer months. "Everyone thinks of birds heading south for the winter, but I think people forget that for some birds, Ohio is south," jokes Scott Carpenter, the public relations manager for the Metroparks of the Toledo Area. "Our eight-mile towpath trail is a marvelous place in the winter," agrees Mark Plessner, a naturalist for the Toledo Metroparks. Plessner says the path crosses a variety of habitats, which leads to a varied list of visible wildlife.
"Near the water you'll see ducks, geese and gulls, then animals that love the edge-area habitat like cardinals. As you continue, [the surroundings become] more closed, so you'll see nuthatches and chickadees." Plessner says the easiest time to find tracks is after a fresh snow, and the earlier you get out, the better. "You might even find owl wing prints where it swooped down, and where the mammal tracks disappear -- if you're really lucky."
There's great wildlife viewing at:
Towpath Trail, Metroparks of the Toledo Area www.metroparkstoledo.com or 419/878-7641.
The Boardwalk Trail at Maumee Bay State Park, an elevated wooden trail through the marshland areas. Scott Denham, the assistant park manager at Maumee, says that Arctic owls have been known to stop here in the winter. www.maumeebaystatepark.org or 419/836-7758.
Caesar Creek State Park has a 16-mile segment of the Buckeye Trail passing through the park. Look for white-tailed deer, fox and raccoons. Waynesville, www.caesarcreekstatepark.com or 513/897-3055.
Edge of Appalachia Preserve, called a "biodiversity hot spot" by the Ohio Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, offers 13,000 acres of forested area and more than 100 rare species. Adams County, www.nature.org or 614/717-2770.
Wayne National Forest promises wild turkeys and white-tailed deer and more. Nelsonville, www.fs.fed.us/r9/wayne/ or 740/753-0101.
Also, find details on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Watchable Wildlife program at www.dnr.state.oh.us or by calling 800/945-3543.
Fresh air is great, but there is fitness fun to be had indoors, as well. Check out these venues for some bracing exercise in a warm, artificial climate.
"Climbing is great exercise," says Ohio University's Hinton, "but we don't really have the weather for ice climbing in Ohio." Luckily, there are ways to supplement Mother Nature when needed. Hocking College in Nelsonville lays claim to the only indoor climbing wall in the state that simulates ice climbing. The wall also has beginner- to expert-level "natural" rock routes and a platform for repelling. www.hocking.edu or 740/753-6544. Fee is $5 per day or $42 for 10 weeks. Call ahead for times.
Other walls to scale include:
Cleveland Rock Gym, Euclid, www.clevelandrockgym.com or 216/692-3300.
Vandalia Recreation Center, Vandalia, www.ci.vandalia.oh.us/Rec_Center.cfm or 937/415-2340.
Rockquest Climbing Center, Cincin- nati, www.rockquest.com or 513/733-0123.
If Emmit Smith can do it, so can you. And as far as we can tell, there's never been a better time to fill your dance card in Ohio, thanks to a staggering number of informal clubs throughout the state.
Mid Ohio Boogie Club members Jitterbug, Swing and Shag at the club's weekly Wednesday dances. Membership is $25 for the year and includes an hour of (free!) lessons before each event. Columbus, www.midohioboogieclub.org or 614/939-1844.
The American Czechoslovakian Club in Dayton opens its doors to all polka fans. Most dances are $13 and include soda, beer and light snacks. www.accdayton.com or call Frank Orehowsky, 937/879-0940.
Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, Cleveland Heights, www.scottishcountrydancing.net or 216/932-9038. Learn jigs, reels, hornpipes and other dances at classes that meet on Fridays; $3 for adults.
Cincinnati Contra Dancers, www.cincinnaticontradance.org or 513/681-4768. Weekly dances are $4, with free lessons before the event.