It’s cold outside. The streets might be covered in ice. There’s a good movie on TV, and plenty of food in the fridge. So why would anyone want to go out and get some exercise?

That’s the dilemma many of us face in the winter months, and some of us have the extra pounds to show for it. In terms of our overall physical and mental health, getting moving is the antidote to the winter blahs. Even a little bit of exercise can make a big difference in our outlook on life.

Steve Tarver, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Louisville

“Activity is the new wonder drug,” says Steve Tarver, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Louisville, repeating one of his favorite quotes. “Physical activity is important all year long, but in particular during the winter when we’re indoors more, things move a little more slowly. That can infringe on our physical health, but also on our mental and social health as well.”

Tarver, who oversees 15 local YMCAs and a $51 million budget, knows that getting healthy starts with small steps. He recommends taking a flight of stairs instead of the elevator, walking to your mailbox instead of driving to it, and doing other things that will help you get in some extra steps during your day.

“The challenge is in changing the behavior,” Tarver says. “The fitness takes care of itself. The body functions on what’s called the use/disuse theory. If you don’t use it, you lose it. The body is a magnificent set of systems and organs. It takes very little to make a difference over time.”

Motivation, then, is the major stumbling block for many people. Tarver suggests taking inventory of the pros and cons of your life, and putting the most important “pro” in the forefront of everything you do – even if it means putting a motivational photo in a spot where you see it frequently.

“I have a 4-year-old granddaughter. I want to be around for her, I want to water ski with her,” Tarver says. “If she runs up and jumps on my back, I don’t want to be in bed for three weeks. I’m keeping a picture of my granddaughter in front of me frequently, and that is my major pro. From there, I’m thinking about improved musculature, increased cardiovascular capacity, being able to eat more, having a higher energy level. However, start with one key vision that you can keep in front of you frequently, Have a list of pros that fight all the cons that you have fighting for your time and energy around your daily routine.”

Another de-motivator for health is procrastination. Gym membership sign-ups jump in January, and a lot of people start out with good intentions for working out, but then life gets in the way and other priorities push ahead of the gym.

“Why not right now?” Tarver asks. “People say ‘I want to be more healthy.’ I always push them to say ‘What does that mean?’ What are you going to do to become more healthy?’ It’s a path to nowhere. What aspect do you want to address? Reach that, and then set a new goal. Becoming more fit or becoming more healthy as a broad goal is overwhelming and ultimately not achievable.”

Tarver is encouraged by changes he sees in our culture. He sees many people making smart lifestyle changes, paying attention to their nutrition, and staying active. He understands that, for those who have neglected their health, the idea of walking into a gym is intimidating, and he trains his staff to be welcoming and non-judgmental.

The YMCA, which is celebrating 165 years of service in Louisville, recently broke ground on a $28 million facility in the West End, at 18th and Broadway, a place Tarver expects will bring 200,000 visits annually.

There’s little doubt that as a society, we’re placing a great emphasis on fitness, even in the winter. We’ve just got to get motivated.

“If we can just take little steps, then people can change,” Tarver says. “If we stimulate it, the body will change. The challenge is the mental side of it, the behavior change. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. The concept of no pain, no gain has been shown to be a myth many years ago.”

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