Back to Fitness: Get Up for Fall

Runners surviving another sweltering August day in Shenandoah. Photo: John Andersen.

I recently had a work client who had just moved to the area from northern California. She is an outdoorsy type and excited about all the thick green forest we have and how it can be accessed within just a few minutes from her house. We were talking outside. It was about a million degrees with a million percent humidity and a million bugs were pestering us. We paused the conversation intermittently to swat at a bug or dab the sweat from our foreheads and eyes.  

“Well, if you’re actually happy right now,” I said, “you should know that this is by far the most miserable time of year outside. Just wait until the fall.”

The Fall. It’s coming! As a Virginian for the past 37 years, I can say that July and August have always been miserable outside. I can remember being a kid and having to mow the lawn and just hating it. If we were outside, it was pretty much at the pool. Otherwise, you went to your friend’s house whose parents didn’t mind running the air conditioning hard.  

When it comes to being active outside, we tend to give summer a lot more credit than it is due because of our life as kids. When school was out for summer, the world was our oyster and “outside” was typically the venue. June and even early July were filled with so much fun and so many memories. But then came late July and August. If you were stuck in town, pool or air conditioning, please. 

I hear a lot about people being less active in the winter and waiting until the spring to start getting in shape. However consider right now: have you felt like getting outside and being active throughout August? Okay, there’s more daylight and more time for outdoor activities, but if we’re being honest about our motivation to go out and exercise, August is at least on par with a cold, rainy day in January.  

However…fall is coming! Heck, yeah!

This is a fitness column. If you’re reading it, you’re either one of those “read the entire paper no matter the content” people, or you’ve got some interest in your own health and fitness. Either way, this month I want you to get pumped up about fall.  

Kids are back in school, there is a new routine, and, maybe just maybe, by the time this goes to print in early September we will have a reprieve from the spirit-crushing heat and humidity of late summer.  

Are you going to take advantage?

Living in a mountain town like Crozet makes fall particularly special. You can literally see the change happening on the mountainside from most anywhere in town. You can feel that crisp autumn breeze coming down from Skyline Drive and imploring you to get outside!  

Those of you who have kept up an exercise routine throughout the summer are about to be rewarded. It’s as if you’ve suddenly got new fitness once the temps and humidity drop. Actually, no, suddenly you will have all this new fitness. Exercising in the heat and humidity (when done safely!) has similar effects as exercising at altitude when it comes to your cardiovascular fitness. You’ve been getting it done even though your poor heart has had to deliver extra blood to your skin for cooling purposes, leaving less in place for your muscles and your gut. Soon, there will come a crisp morning where you’ll hardly sweat and your heart and lungs and legs are gonna sing, “Why is this so easy?!”  This is the sweetest reward and almost makes exercising in August worth it. Almost.

But for those of you who have confined yourselves to the pool and air conditioning, there is truly no better time than right now to consider your current fitness goals. Fall is, in my opinion, the best season in Virginia. When you’re getting off the coach, you need all the motivation you can get. Why not start with mother nature throwing you some incredible weather and scenery? Walking, hiking, running, biking, gardening, paddling, and exercise classes outdoors are about to become exponentially more amazing than they were in August.

There are also myriad events. If you’re wanting to get started with running, for example, there are many fun races that you can sign up for. You don’t have to take them seriously, but I find that having an event that you paid for on the calendar is a very motivating factor for getting moving.

Like anything, fitness is all about our habits, and establishing good, consistent habits. Fall is the time to start some new ones. And if you can keep your schedule through the amazingness that is fall in Virginia, next thing you know you’re going to keep them through the mild winters we have. (Have I ever told you how much I love the winters in Virginia?) And then Spring, the other amazing season!  And then, back to July and August, when we can focus on vacation, hanging by the pool, and air conditioning. 


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