Working Toward Winter Happiness: Week Eight

It’s been eight weeks, almost two months since I started this project. I’ve learned a few things, found some things in my lifestyle that I needed to tweak and I’m finding others that may or may not matter. Let’s dive into all the various things I’m working on and tracking and let’s see how it panned out in terms of mood.

Goal 1 (Go outside 7/7 days) and Goal 2 (Dress properly to enjoy being outside):

This week I’ve cared less about going outside regularly. I need to have a reason to go outside and “because I probably should” isn’t enough of one. So this week I managed only 5/7 days. However, when I’ve gone outside I’ve really had to focus on dressing warm. The temperatures have started going below freezing and we’ve had snow that is already sticking around. When I’ve been outside I’ve been really careful to wear enough that I have no complaints and so far so good.

I am not a fan of winter but I have to admit this is gorgeous.

But I’ve also been having my reservations about the necessity of getting outside every day as compared to other habits here. With my work schedule, it isn’t really possible to get outside during daylight hours and even if I were, there’s not a lot of possibility of getting Vitamin D from skin that’s completely covered. So as an experiment I’m going to look at no longer having a seven day target but instead just ensure that when I do go out I’m dressed for it. With 2-3 days/week of work, grocery shopping and other errands I am at no risk of staying inside for an extended duration.

So to summarize:

Goal 1: 5/7 = 71.4%
Goal 2: 5/5 = 100%

Goal 3: Running:

As I mentioned last week, even with the little running I was doing I already had an injury with calf muscle and foot pain. So until further notice, I’ll be removing this goal from the tracking. I was feeling pain in my foot and calf just walking at the beginning of the week. Now I have no issues so at least in that sense I’ve made a correct decision:

Goal 4: Cycling:

With less running, I increased my cycling target to five days a week with a minimum of 30 minutes each time. I’ve already done four days and will be doing my fifth ride today so this will be at 100%. All of these rides have been inside on Zwift. With the snow and cold I’ve been happy to just ride indoors. Another bonus of riding inside is often I have people to ride with – usually strangers, but still company who often chat on social rides.

My view on Friday morning

One of the interesting things that this new fitness watch has showed me is not so much about my fitness and performance itself but one of the other things it measures: stress. It measures stress through changes in heart rate variability, apparently. One thing it did show me is that my stress levels are overall pretty low. All day at work they were low enough that it was considered restful. Physical activity increases it a little (of course) but mostly other things don’t affect it – I might see a slight increase if I get an annoying email, but really noticed it go up when I had to move on the bus when three drunk guys got on and sat in the back with me, one of them literally falling over and leaning on me to stay up. I moved and then looked at my stress levels – among the highest of the day.

Why am I telling you about stress under cycling? How are they related? Well, one of the things I noticed is that as I said, physical activity increases stress (likely in a good way) and it stays elevated for hours afterward. I did a very difficult ride that finished at 8PM on Sunday and my stress levels were up for two hours after I went to sleep. As you might imagine, I didn’t get to bed early as I was too wired from working out and still woke at 5:00 AM. The next day was not a good one. So I made a decision: as much as I don’t enjoy morning exercise, it is a necessary evil. Now on days I ride, I lay out my clothes the night before, have a coffee and then hop on my bike. Of course Sage has been suggesting this for years – and she was 100% correct in this case. I felt great and was so happy to have everything done literally before the sun came up. And in the end, my sleep improved, and often I was ready for bed between 9:15 and 9:30 PM – a full hour before I was ready before. So I’m going to try to keep that happening on weekdays. Which, of course transitions well to:

Goal 5: Get more than 6.5 hours sleep every day:

I’m still trying to tune this in and struggle more with sleeping in than going to bed early – but still apparently I’m not going to bed early enough. At least my body has stopped strongly suggesting that 3:30 AM is a great time to wake up like it did for over a week after we turned the clocks back.

Sleep quality has been quite good though my coffee consumption is no longer trending downward and I’m back to 3-4 cups/day. So in the end there’s been no improvement from last week:

Goal 5: 4/7 days = 57.1%

Goal 6: Eat Properly

Like last week, I could have done but haven’t managed to find a good way to quantify this. Nothing special this week though my goal is to eat a bit more vegetables. However, I’ve started logging my food and it looks as if I may be eating a bit more than I need, especially as I try to lose a bit of weight to get ready for bicycle racing again. So for this I’m going to add both calories and nutrition. So my more specific goal is to have every meal logged, veggies with every meal, and to be at or under the calorie goal for the day.

This week I give myself:

Goal 6: 80%

But what about my mood? I think something I’m noticing about how I’m feeling lately (my memory of my past moods is always clouded by my nostalgia so saying how I feel relative to summer is silly) is that the dynamic range of my mood is larger. I generally feel reasonably good but when I hit a low it feels worse than I remember it feeling in summer. One interesting insight I’m trying to keep aware of is something my watch is calling “Body battery” which is a mixture of training load, sleep and energy levels. Generally it starts high-ish in the morning and drops gradually over the course of the day but drops faster with high stress or vigorous exercise.

Most of my week I rated the same level of happiness except Sunday. Most of the day was moderately low and felt bad that I’d wasted much of the day. In the evening I got on my bike determined to ride my way out of it, pushing myself extra hard for 80 minutes climbing a big hill that didn’t let up. As yo-7u can see, that resulted in a huge drop to 9%. If I were a phone I’d have dimmed my screen and slowed my processor which basically seemed to happen. My mood hit bottom and I felt miserable. As you can see the next day I barely got back above 50% even though I slept (that was the night I was sleeping and stressed at the same time so no wonder I didn’t feel much better. That night I chose to do a rest day instead of exercising and it seems to have been the right move as I was back up above 75% the next day and had a great rest of the week. So paying attention to rest and relaxation and timing of when I use my resources is something I could be better at. Taking on a hard ride (OK, I admit it, partly to punish myself for wasting the day) late in the day when energy is low is not a recipe for success. Despite that, my mood average was pretty good:

Mood Average: 73.4%

Averaging my habits together, I met my goals 81.7% of the time, actually a 14% drop from last week (the extra cycling above my goal last week skewed that for sure). But it’s interesting to note that my average mood rating was only 0.5% less than last week – doubtless statstically insignificant.

It is also worth mentioning that on Wednesday, a SAD lamp arrived and I’ve been sitting in front of that for 30 minutes every morning. Whether that makes a difference or is a placebo is of no consequence to me. I’m actually happy with where I’m at at this stage.

So next week my goals will be a little different. Going outside is going to no longer be a priority. I didn’t see much difference with that and some days it just doesn’t work out. On the other hand, balancing sleep, eating, exercise and energy seems incredibly important so I will aim to ride five days again this week for at least 30 min/day. As I regain my fitness I will start increasing this a bit. Eating properly and sleeping over 6.5 hours/day will continue to be a priority. I joked with a friend in a Facebook comment thread that I will live like I’m in the International Space Station. There really won’t be a lot of trips outside but I’ll work on connecting with humans (this means 2-3 days/week at work also), keeping fit and taking care of my body. We’ll see where this leads next week.

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