How to stay motivated to exercise during the foggy days of a San Francisco summer

Come December, almost every fitness magazine or blog features an article about how to stay motivated to workout during the winter months. The Internet is full of fitness tips for winter, while retailers push the latest in coldweather gear.

San Francisco is a city with little variability in our temperatures, making these articles virtually irrelevant to our fitness buffs. Yet, we do have one weather phenomenon that can be a buzz kill for outdoor recreationalists. While the rest of the country enjoys warm summer days, we often host an unwelcome guest named Karl the Fog. Karl is active on social media, with his very own Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Don’t get me wrong, some people welcome Karl and appreciate the cooling blanket he provides. It is easy enough to escape his presence with a quick trip inland. Plus, it’s pretty amazing to see his fingers of fog creep across the skyline, hiding the sun and its warmth in a matter of minutes. Others, myself included, are easily affected and develop feelings of fatigue and sluggishness. We may need a little push to get outside for exercise. On my first day of graduate school at UCSF almost 15 years ago, a professor told us to be sure to escape the city on weekends to avoid developing SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that often occurs during winter conditions…or, in our beloved city, during the summer when the sun doesn’t shine. I still get a burst of energy when I wake up to a clear, sunny morning. On those perfect days, I can’t wait to get outside and don’t want to waste a rare, beautiful day. Those kinds of San Francisco days make even the foggiest worth it.

So how can you stay motivated to exercise during the foggy days of a San Francisco summer?

      • Appreciate the cool- While the fog may be lingering in your neighborhood, just a few miles in any given direction the temps may be soaring, making a morning workout intolerable. Last weekend I was visiting my hometown and got out for a fairly early run…in 85 degree heat (and loved every minute of it). Yet, friends in hotter climates complain of having to workout at 5:00 am to avoid the heat, or worse, they have to stay in an air-conditioned gym for their daily dose of exercise.
      • Wait it out- Depending on the day, it may actually burn off. But, as soon as you see a glimpse of clear sky, head on out. You never know when Karl will return. It may be a matter of a couple of hours, or might stay clear the rest of the day.
      • Or don’t…There’s a strong chance that he’s here to stay for the day. Embrace the cool climate and know that you’ll have a sunny day soon enough. According to a 2011 study of 229 students conducted at sunny Santa Clara University (1), exercising outdoors was more enjoyable and resulted in less tension and stress, compared to indoor exercise.
      • Try a different neighborhood- In a city known for its microclimates, you can almost always find a sunny spot in San Francisco. Venture to a different neighborhood for some exploration and, fingers crossed, maybe a little sun. Some of the sunniest neighborhood in San Francisco include the Mission, Noe Valley, DogPatch and Potrero Hill.
      • Appreciate your surroundings- The outdoors take on an entirely different look and feel under the cover of fog. Views you have seen a million times, suddenly become new, taking on a different type of beauty. Have you ever seen The Presidio under cover of fog? Or heard the foghorn sounding under the Golden Gate Bridge? The trails in Glen Canyon become beautifully mysterious when shrouded in fog.
      • Take it indoors- There are a ton of great indoor fitness options, if you just can’t drag yourself outside to face the fog. Some of my favorites are TRX, yoga, Pilates, and circuit training workouts in the gym or at home.
      • Grab a friend or play some music- Can’t get out the door? Grab your iPod or call a friend. Both have been linked to increased motivation for exercise. In fact, a 2013 article in Scientific American (2) reports, “Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. When listening to music, people run farther, bike longer and swim faster than usual—often without realizing it.”

Tips for exercising on foggy days:

      • Don’t overdress- While wet, foggy weather isn’t always cold weather. You’ll learn your lesson if you head out with too many clothes into the often warm, humid air. Your best bet is to dress just like you do for any SF day—layer, layer, layer (preferably in a sweat wicking fabric).
      • Don’t forget the sun protection- Sunscreen and sunglasses are a must on even the foggiest of days. According to dermatologists, 87% of the sun’s rays penetrate through clouds, fog and mist. While these can block sunlight, they don’t effectively block harmful UV rays.
      • Warm up appropriately- Depending on the temps, you may need more of a warm up on a foggy day. I recommend a dynamic warmup and light start to your workout.

Ahh…the sun just came out—time to hit the trails! See you soon, Karl.

 

References:
1. Plante, TG, et al. Exercising with an iPod, Friend, or Neither: Which is Better for Psychological Benefits? Am J Health Behav.™ 2011;35(2):199-208.
2. Jabr, Ferris. “Let’s Get Physical: The Psychology of Effective Workout Music”. March 20, 2013. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/psychology-workout-music/.

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