Getting (And Staying) Active in the New Year

The New Year has become synonymous with resolutions. Eat healthier, read more books, less screen time – January represents a time of (hopeful) betterment & excitement for a fresh start. However, to many, there is a looming goal, one that is on the top of countless 2024 New Year’s resolution lists – to get, and stay, active.

When establishing your own personal fitness goals, it is first crucial to recognize that each and every person’s goals must be unique. We all have different abilities, interests, budgets and  expectations – there is no standard or routine that is guaranteed to put you into the best shape of your life (no matter what the headlines may say).

For those looking to kickstart their 2024 resolutions, the Town of Manchester’s Department of Leisure, Family and Recreation will be offering free Recreation Membership cards to all adult and senior residents for the 2024 programming season, made possible through funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). 

A Recreation Membership Card can be obtained at Center Springs Park, the Community Y, Customer Services at Town Hall and the Senior Center. This card will allow access to the town’s recreation centers, outdoor & indoor pools, and the Community Y Fitness Center. Senior citizen passes are also valid for the Manchester Senior Center and Senior Center Programs.

This offer is available for Manchester residents only. Please contact the Recreation Division at (860)647-3084 with any questions.

Everyone has their own reason to get & stay active during the winter. A crucial reason for many is to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder, which impacts millions, particularly those in places such as New England with long winters, short days and dwindling sunlight. Many are impacted throughout the fall & winter months, feeling their energy sap away alongside increased feelings of anxiety and depression.

“‘Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder characterized by a cycling of depressive episodes in winter and normal mood during warmer seasons,’ explains clinical psychologist Anthony Townsend of Eqnmt. It’s not really related to trauma or stress – it’s actually a chemical imbalance in the brain caused by a lack of sunlight during short winter days, which disturbs the circadian system and causes serotonin and melatonin levels in the brain to change,” Christina Pérez of Vogue wrote.

Exercise, particularly outdoor exercise, is a proven tool to combat the impact of Seasonal Affective Disorder. What is particularly interesting is that consistency often reigns supreme over intensity. Discovering your limits is a part of anyone’s fitness journey, yes, but it is more important to establish a routine, one that can be maintained with built in time for the body to rest, heal and strengthen.

“Exercise reduces levels of stress hormones in the body and increases the production of endorphins…Even 20 minutes of gentle, enjoyable exercise can boost both your immune system and mood, both of which are critical during the winter months,” Aleah Balas of Yahoo Life wrote. “Walking is a great way to get light exposure, exercise, a positive environment and embrace the fresh winter air, all in one.”

While consistent exercise has proven mental health benefits, it is not a magical “fix” for mental health issues. Mental health, much like physical health, is a lifelong journey, with times of peaks and valleys, good days and long nights. It needs to be addressed holistically, including through diet, socialization, mental health services and countless other factors. For information on available mental health services, please visit the Town of Manchester’s Human Services Department website.

Looking to get outdoors, brave the winter cold and get that ever important Vitamin D? The Town of Manchester is a haven of greenspaces and outdoor trails, all available to the general public with offerings for those of all abilities. Manchester, which has roughly 109 miles of formal and informal trails, is home to trails such as Center Springs Park, Hop River, Risley, Adams Mill, Case Mountain and many more. The Manchester Trails Guide, which provides further details on all 19 of Manchester’s outdoor trails systems, can be viewed online by clicking here.

Elsewhere in the state, there is a vast trails network connecting across the East Coast Greenway. The University of Connecticut’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources even has a Connecticut Trails database, which includes the Connecticut Trail Finder, the Connecticut Trail Census and the Active Living team. Further information on Connecticut’s trail systems can be viewed on the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection’s website.

Whether you are a first-time hiker or a lifelong outdoorsman, there are several basic tips that all should follow for outdoor exercise:

  • Always warm-up before you exercise.
  • Choose proper footwear – invest in a good pair of walking, hiking or running shoes (if able).
  • Protect yourself from the sun. Wear a hat & glasses and always wear sunscreen, even if you think you won’t be in areas with heavy sun coverage.
  • During the warmer months, be sure to protect yourself from mosquitoes and ticks. Always check for ticks after you bike or hike on trails.
  • Exercise with a companion. If you are unable to do so, always let someone know where you are.

For many, gyms are the most evident way to establish a fitness routine. However, many popular gyms can lead people to feeling judged at best, excluded at worst. In steps the Community Y Fitness Center, which is available for those of all abilities in a welcoming, inclusive environment. The Community Y Fitness Center is open from 8:30 AM – 9:00 PM (Monday-Friday) & 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM (Saturday) at 78 North Main Street.

Miss the benefits of a summer swim? The Town of Manchester’s Recreation Division also oversees open swim hours at both the Main & IOH Pool at Manchester High School. Open swim will be available between Tuesday, January 8, 2024 and Thursday, June 6, 2024 and will follow the below weekly schedule:

  • Main Pool Monday & Wednesday, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
  • IOH Pool Monday & Wednesday, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM

                         Saturday, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM (Saturday swim open 1/27-3/23)

Swimming is not just great for your physical health. Studies throughout the years have shown that swimming can be a powerful tool for your mental health, too. Swimming can serve as a powerful form of escapism from the droll, dreary winter New England days, providing holistic health benefits that are ever-needed over the coming months.

“Studies show that swimming can [also] be a powerful tool to manage depression symptoms. A 2020 study [found that] a 10-week swim program helps participants reduce fatigue, anger and symptoms of depression. It also improved mood and a sense of well-being,” Nicole LaMarco of PsychCentral wrote. “An extensive review of multiple studies also found that swimming significantly reduces symptoms of depression and improves mood. In two of the studies, participants reported nearly 80% improvements in symptoms.”

If you are embarking on a fitness journey in the new year, try to set realistic goals, find a partner or two who can help keep you on track, and always remember to give your body ample rest. And remember – maintaining your health is a lifelong journey, so why not have some fun with it?

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