Staying active outdoors this winter is challenging but worth the effort

Winter has always posed a challenge to staying active outdoors, and this winter is particularly so with all the snow, ice and frigid temperatures we’ve had. But meeting that challenge head on is well worth the effort.

Research has shown that the more often we find ourselves outdoors and enjoying nature, the happier we tend to be. A 2013 article from the New York Times Health and Wellness blog discussed how exposure to plants is not only a stress reliever, but also seems to raise levels of white blood cells.


(Photo from

(Photo from

Other research, including sources such as the Harvard Health Letter, has shown that being outdoors raises vitamin D levels, which lift one’s mood and fights cancer, depression and heart disease. Over the years peer reviewed research has also examined how increasing the time spent playing in nature for children with ADHD has improved their ability to concentrate and focus.

When the mercury keeps dipping into the negatives it raises questions for us. How can we benefit from the outdoors if we choose to? What do we do with ourselves and family members if we’re going to be stuck indoors more than we’d like? What can we do to help members of our community who might find themselves homeless or overexposed to the elements?

Tips on benefiting from the outdoors when you’d rather be inside:

Many of us have vowed that 2014 will be the year when we get back in shape for good. If walking or running outdoors was part of your new workout plan but you’re finding it unbearable to brave the cold, don’t give up yet. The key to keeping up an outdoor workout plan is all in the clothing. When I first started running I was shocked to find out that running in 40 degrees is actually a pretty perfect temperature with the right apparel. Running tights, thick socks, long sleeved sweat-wicking shirts and jackets, and thick gloves and hats made the runs surprisingly refreshing.

When the temperatures fall somewhere in between 30 and 40 degrees F, hats with built-in face masks are perfect (I have a neon yellow Carhartt one that was affordable and works well). Hats like these also keep your breath warm by filtering it which is good if you have exercise-induced asthma and the cold makes you wheezy. You’ll get used to the strange looks from passersby and like a recent commercial, it might be best to remove the mask when you enter a gas station, but all in all, running or walking in the cold can be done.

If the temps dip below the teens, however, it might be better to take your workout indoors and enjoy nature through a window from the confines of your cozy recliner because few pieces of clothing can make minus-9 degrees bearable.

Happy-making projects for yourself and your family:

When it is simply too cold to get out, workout videos can keep your cardio on track and you on your way to fulfilling those healthy resolutions. A yoga video in the living room can be just as fun as a group workout at your gym, and making time during work can bring a welcome change.

During our break, my co-workers and I have recently been doing a group exercise called “7-Minute Workout.” You can find it as a smart phone app or a video on Youtube. Many a cold gray day has been improved by our micro-workout and it is a fun activity since we usually end up laughing at ourselves as we do “high knees/running in place” and “side-plank.” We leave our conference room a little bit warmer, a little more refreshed and ready to dive back into work.

During the weekends and evenings it is far too easy to veg out and binge-watch shows such as Game of Thrones (admittedly fun, but leaves one feeling sloth-like), so making a list of projects to do can kickstart those creative juices. I promised myself I will complete at least 5 items from my Pinterest crafts page in 2014. Other things such as creating healthy meals and decadent desserts from recipes I have saved are also on the to-do list.

Purging/organizing is also a great indoor activity that helps refresh both one’s living space and one’s head space. I have been streamlining our apartment and getting rid of clothing and items that have accumulated in our closets. Coats, warm clothing, gloves, and scarves have been donated to local organizations such as the Hope Center and The Nest.

Organizing a clothing or home goods swap with friends is also a great, free way to get rid of stuff you’re tired of, while getting new-to-you things you might need. My newly de-cluttered space feels larger and leaves me feeling more free and inspired.

The following are great links to bookmark for the next time you and your family have a lot of indoor time on your hands:

50 Fun Winter Activities from Real Simple Magazine

31 Things for Kids to Do During Winter Break from No Time for Flashcards

29 Things to do Indoors this Winter from Minnesota’s Examiner

Winter learning activities from Scholastic

Themed winter crafts by Activity Village


Helping others endure the cold:

While complaining about the temperature, I have thought of the members of my community who have little choice but to endure the cold. For those without homes or who lack adequate housing, there are actions we can take to help.

Donating warm clothing, in good condition, to local shelters and nonperishables to local food banks will fill a need that increases exponentially with the cold. If you cannot donate monetarily, the following locations accept donations and are in need of the following items:

The Hope Center – Donations can be dropped at: 360 W Loudon Ave, Lexington. Currently in need of coats, cold weather clothing, thermal underwear, socks, gloves, hats and unopened hygiene products.

The Catholic Action Center – Donations can be dropped at: 614 E. 7th St., Lexington (10 a.m.-2 p.m., Monday-Saturday). Currently in need of laundry detergent, coffee, creamer/sugar, large garbage bags, bleach, cleaning supplies and toilet paper.

The Salvation Army – Donations can be dropped at: 736 W. Main St., Lexington. Currently in need of canned meats (tuna, chicken), beef stew and soups, pasta and spaghetti sauce, breakfast cereals, peanut butter, canned green vegetables, canned fruits and juices, clothing in good condition, diapers (all sizes), personal care items (toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, deodorant), and household items for shelter residents who move into a home, such as toasters, microwaves, linens.

God’s Pantry – Main warehouse is at 1685 Jaggie Fox Way, Lexington (9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m.-12 noon on Fridays). Any nonperishable food item is appreciated. Residents of Fayette County can also make their donations at any Kroger location by placing the food in the donation barrel near the customer service desk or exit.


Lisa-Conley-300x203Lisa Conley is an outreach specialist for Bluegrass Greensource.

This article appeared in KY Forward on February 6, 2014.



We spent day ‘unplugged’ as part of a resolution to get outdoors more

For those of you who joined Bluegrass Greensource in including getting outdoors more among your 2014 resolutions, I hope it’s one you’re actually going to keep. Beyond the obvious benefits of getting fresh air, vitamin-D enriched sunshine and exercise, being around nature can boost energy levels and relieve stress. It also can remind us how important our natural surroundings are to our quality of life.

Greensource is asking everyone, adults and children alike, to enjoy more time outdoors this coming year, maybe with a hike, a walk around your neighborhood or geocaching, a real-life treasure hunt. Anything that lets us “unplug” from electronic gadgets and enjoy the outdoors will count.

Learning to identify the trees along your street would provide fun and interesting outdoor time for your family. You could even set a goal to visit at least one state park this year. For a list of other great ideas, click here and search “resolutions.”

A pair of bald eagles perch on a bare branch at Kentucky Dam Village where my family loves to go. (Photo by Donna Stinnett)

A pair of bald eagles perch on a bare branch at Kentucky Dam Village where my family loves to go. (Photo by Donna Stinnett)

My family has agreed to accept the challenge. This past weekend, we started by “unplugging” from electronic gadgets for a day. No phones, TV, computers or iPads – just a day of family time. As a mom of two, 10 and 8, I was looking forward to a day without Minecraft discussions, Jessie episodes and texting marathons.

I did not take into account the fact we use our smartphones to tell time, iPads to do science fair project research and that UK would be playing Vanderbilt. We ended up taking advantage of the warmer weather and spent lots of time outside – walking, playing basketball and doing much-needed yard work. That night, we enjoyed a family game night. All in all, we learned that we could survive while taking some time away from gadgets. There was even talk about a day of no electricity, but I’ll have to check UK’s schedule first.

This summer, we plan to explore a state park we’ve never been to before. I grew up going to Kentucky Dam Village with my family, and I really enjoy taking my kids there now. They just can’t get enough of Mom’s “back in the day” stories or saying the park’s name with a giggle. We’ve enjoyed the park’s hiking trails, swimming spots and fishing and golfing opportunities.

The 18-hole golf course is really top-notch and well maintained, plus some of the local wildlife may even join you. If you have a favorite state park, share it on our Bluegrass Greensource Facebook page here and maybe we will visit it this year.

The year is off to a great start already as my family resolves to get outdoors more. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with nature and discovering new things with my kids. I’m sure you have some great ideas of your own for spending more time outdoors. I’d love to hear about all the fun activities, but only after you’ve enjoyed your time outside.


Chris Clabes photo

Chris Clabes is the development and public relations coordinator at Bluegrass Greensource. Before joining Greensource, Chris worked as a consultant for numerous nonprofit organizations across the state, including the formation of Kentucky Philanthropy Initiative and Gov. Beshear’s Commission on Philanthropy. She was Kentucky 4-H Foundation’s executive director and served as the director of finance for the National Association of Home Builders’ Political Action Committee in Washington, D.C. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky.


This article appeared in KY Forward on January 30, 2014.


Weather has a way of wreaking havoc with even the best-laid summer plans

I don’t know about you, but it seems like my summer is passing too quickly and not gone as planned.

My wife and two sons planned on spending about a week at Cave Run Lake – our favorite place to camp, fish and do what you do on vacation. We were hoping for a peaceful time from work, email and normal daily stresses.

Our aging German shepherd was also going to get some time wading and hanging out by campfires. Our sons Sully, 3, and Harmon, almost 2, were thrilled at the aspect of fishing, searching for bugs, swimming and all of us trying to paddle our giant canoe in the lake water. My wife Kate and I knew that camping with children and an aging dog is altogether a different kind of stress, but the prospect of the lake camping lifestyle outweighed any future challenges.

But weather has a way of changing things. We knew the weather was going to be sketchy, but we planned accordingly with rain jackets and plenty of tarps for our campsite.

On arrival at our favorite campsite, the weather was calm with just a enough breaks in the rain to put up our tent and rain tarps over the picnic table and to get the necessary things settled. That night the firewood was too wet for a fire, so we retired early.

It rained and stormed heavily that night with just a few small leaks in our tent. No too bad. I thought “If we can survive through that rain last night, we’ll be fine.”

That morning and afternoon saw more rain and on again, off again downpours. I looked at Kate and said – “I think we are going to need more tarps.” She was pleased with the idea of venturing back to civilization for a while because our boys were starting to go stir crazy in the tent and needed to get some space. So we drove to the closest big box store and loaded up with rain protective gear, a.k.a. tarps.

By the time we had drove back to the campsite it was deceptively sunny and our camping friends had just arrived. We continued to rainproof our campsite with lots of rope and tarps. We marveled at our engineering feat of three large tarps covering our tent, table and fire site as we made dinner.

Then a distant “boom”! We all looked at each other – each convinced that our protective measures would sustain any amount of rain. We should have built an ark.

Just after dinner the rain started again – this time there was hurricane-force rain and lightning flashed in ways that I have never experienced before. That says a lot because I have experienced multiple tropical storms and a hurricane growing up in North Carolina.

Our tarps filled with hundreds of pounds of water and failed miserably. They failed with such a force that the plastic grommets pulled out from the corners of the tarps. Our gravel campsite began to flood.

Luckily our boys were exhausted and were sleeping in the tent. I looked at our dog, who was lying in about 2 inches of water. The rain was not stopping anytime soon. We all agreed to tuck tail and retreat. Heavy deluge of rain, copious nonstop lighting and floating water tents with metal poles is not a nice condition for toddlers. So retreat we did to a motel. That next morning we decided to pack up between rain events. And it continued to rain all the way back home.

I write this story of survival all to remind myself that nature will have its way every time. No matter how we plan, organize, build and construct, nature will do what it wants – when it wants. We have to adjust to it.

I try to remember that as I educate kids about the surprising and unpredictable world in which they live. I talked with Sully (attempted with Harmon) about how sometimes nature surprises us and plans change but added that rain, lightning, thunder are all beautiful things. All except for the wet/unused diapers, soaked aging dog, waterbed tent, floating firewood and tarps filled with enough water you could host an Olympic diving event.

Chris Muesing has been with Greensource as an environmental educator for three years.  Chris received a bachelor’s degree with a focus in environmental stewardship from Houghton College in New York. Before joining Greensource he taught environmental education to various summer camps and school groups. He has two sons that are growing up to be avid outdoors men that enjoy hiking, creeking and fishing. Chris can be reached by calling 859-266-1572 or via e-mail at

This article appeared in KY Forward on August 8, 2013.