To everything, the biblical book of Ecclesiastes says, there is a season.
When it comes to getting fit, that time arrives for many folks on Jan. 1 in the form of a New Year’s Resolution, or in early spring, when layers of clothes are about to go on hiatus, and time at the beach lurks around the corner.
However, the onset of autumn brings with it opportunities to continue or develop healthy habits as well.
“I think a lot of people go with the New Year’s resolution,” said Misty Motter, assistant athletic trainer at Westminster College. “But why wait for the new year? Why not start your new, healthy habits now, and keep building on those so you don’t have to gain the extra pounds in order to have that roller coaster of a ride?
“And the New Year’s resolution, how many of them really pan out?”
Perhaps the most attractive reason to start a fall fitness regimen, Motter added, is the cooler temperatures that accompany the season.
“There are always different activities, like the mud runs, and fundraisers are big, like the color runs and things like that go into the fall,” she said. “I think it’s a better time for training because of the cooler weather, and people may want more to get back in the swing of things, especially when their kids go back to school.
“I’m a runner myself. Getting it in cooler weather is nicer than getting it in hot weather because you find yourself not able to run as long and dehydration and health issues that come about. I think the fall is a nicer running season. “
Still, while having their kids head back to school may create more opportunity for parents to fit exercise into their schedules, the students themselves may find that returning to the classroom actually cuts into their time for other activities.
“Time management is going to be key,” Motter said. “These kids are going to say they don’t have any time but they have some time. It’s all in what they want to do. The population I work with is going to be our student athletes.
“You hope that they’ve trained all summer, and now they get here and they’re being trained a little harder because they have friends here pushing them differently. If you’re training by yourself, you can push yourself so much, but not as much as when somebody is beside you.”
Students, though, aren’t the only ones who can use the fall for education. Starting a fitness regimen now, Motter noted, can help folks learn how to avoid the overindulgence that often accompanies the holiday season and leads back to those oft-coined but seldom-executed New Year’s resolutions.
“Exercising and eating go hand in hand,” she said. "It’s 80 percent eating and 20 percent exercising. So getting those good habits and forming them now hopefully will not have us get those extra pounds that we get in the winter months when it’s more gloomy and people don’t want to get out.”
Moreover, fall can help with the eating as well as the exercising, as harvests of healthy fruits and vegetables arrive in local farm markets and stores. For while the tomatoes and corn of summer may soon be off the table, there is a cornucopia of such fall favorites as apples, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and butternut squash.
"All fruits and vegetables provide benefits, and variety is important to receive that variety of vitamins, minerals, fiber, water that fruits and vegetables contain," said Katherine French, extension educator and registered dietician with the Penn State Extension in Mercer County. "But especially this time of year you have your leafy greens and dark greens. Those are all power packed with nutrients.
"Then you have your squash family that's all coming to market now, and they are high in Vitamin A and C -- things like pumpkin and winter squash. Once again, you want to have things that provide a variety of nutrients and that's what's going to help with overall health. We we look at diabetes management, lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, all those things can be helped with more fruits and vegetables in the diet."
And, of course, what could be more of a natural, healthy autumn treat than apples?
"Apples provide soluble fiber and insoluble fiber, so those are going to be excellent," French said. "And all of the things that are just finishing up -- the tomatoes and the corn and so many of the vegetables -- those are all beneficial to a healthy diet."
Vegetables, though, aren’t the only things that have been growing all summer and can help jump start a fall fitness regimen. As green leaves transition to brilliant autumn colors, they can serve as a strong incentive to get out for some walking or hiking.
In addition to such pathways as the Stavich Bike, Neshannock Creek and North Country trails, McConnells Mill State Park and multiple municipal parks offer opportunities to walk or run under a canopy of fall foliage. Among the latter facilities is Pearson Park in Neshannock Township, where Chris Navarra is the activities director.
“The trail is still pretty at this time of year, the deer are moving, animals are moving, leaves are coming down as they change colors,” she said, adding that the park’s tennis and basketball courts also remain open.
Fall -- and the holiday and winter seasons it heralds -- also is a time when many people’s thoughts turn to hockey and ice skating. For those people, Pearson Park’s Hess Ice Rink – which is open year-round -- is waiting.
“During the winter months, come ice skating,” Navarra said. “It’s great exercise, it’s indoors, it’s in a controlled environment. Yes, it’s going to be chilly, but you know that going in.
“We have Learn to Skate classes on Saturday mornings, we have public sessions throughout the week. Over the holidays we add more public sessions for more skaters.”
Motter urges everyone to consider their fall fitness opportunities, and to choose whatever they believe they can do. And it’s not just for physical health.
“It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, it’s what you’re comfortable with and what you’re able to do,” she said. “Even if it’s just a little bit of walking, that’s better than nothing, whatever that activity is.
“And it helps your mental health. It helps you to release endorphins to create happiness and better self-image. It makes us feel better about ourselves. So why not get out there and go for a stroll, see nature instead of sitting in our house? We’re so connected to our phones anymore and technology, even if it’s just 10, 15 minutes, it’s better than nothing.”