Weathering It: How Winter Healed Me + 3 Great Spots for Outdoor Winter Fun in Guelph

When I was 14 years old, I healed myself from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with one natural treatment. I’ll tell you what that was and why it worked. I’m also excited to show you 3 of my favourite places in Guelph where you and your family can enjoy all the same benefits of this natural treatment, all for $5 or less.

Warning: this could be a super annoying blog for you if you hate winter, recoil at the very sight of snow, or desire nothing more than to flee to a tropical island from November through April.

However, winter healed me and I’ll tell you how: Exercising in the cold.

I’d experienced my parents’ separation and divorce in a really deep way. As a pre-teen I came down with unending fatigue and depression and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) when I was 13. I felt limited, down, and even embarrassed about the lack of energy I had and how it held me back from being a fun person and doing fun things. The clear turn-around came when I joined the cross-country ski team in high school and started exercising outside. I told the coach I was a novice and had CFS and she said I could join and just do my best.

Starting slowly, I began to feel my energy and stamina levels increase. Running and skiing outside seemed to refresh my reserves far beyond what I’d felt in indoor gym classes. By the time we completed our first race at Hardwood Hills, I knew I’d completely turned a corner. I placed last on our team, but gained a huge win in my personal health that stands out crystal-clear as a turning point in my healing journey.

The reason I share this story with you is that I believe that health and healing are available to you, too. Here In the deep mid-winter, many people struggle with weight gain, food cravings, depression, frequent colds, sleep problems or chronic illness. Exercise is generally a great help in these conditions, and if you can layer up, grin and bear it, there’s something special about cold-air exercise that’s particularly invigorating. It probably pumps our lymphatics and stimulates our circulation more vigourously. It also makes us feel pretty much like rock stars when we’ve gone out, conquered the cold and gone that extra mile in spite of the weather.

Free (or super cheap) family fun is available to us year-round in Guelph, and winter offers plenty of opportunities. Here are my 3 favourites.

1. The outdoor rinks. My two faves are Market Square with its coloured lights, music, zamboni to smooth the ice and a nice warm shelter for putting on your gear, so it’s perfect for little ones who are learning, and the neighbour-maintained rink in Herb Markle park, where you can practice your skills with a good old fashioned game of pickup hockey. Cost: Free.

Photo: Elizabeth Cherevaty

Clearing the ice at Herb Markle Park, Guelph

Photo Elizabeth Cherevaty

Early-morning smooth ice at Market Square, Guelph

2. Cross-country skiing at Ignatius Farm. The trails are maintained by the Guelph Nordic Ski Club, and you can get in a beautiful ski of 30 minutes to 2 hours with field and woodlot views. Put your trail fee in the box at the trail head and away you go. Cost: $5.

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Cross-country skiing at Ignatius Farm, Guelph

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Winter sunshine on the trails at Ignatius Farm, Guelph

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Heading out for a ski at Ignatius Farm, Guelph

3. Starkey Hill Trail. Park in the lot at the base of the trail (on Arkell Road just east of Arkell). You can hike the loop in about an hour and enjoy the views mid-way, or just go in as far as the chickadee feeders. Bring some bird seed – sunflower seeds are a favourite – and enjoy the delicate landing of chickadees and nuthatches in the palm of your hand. This is such a peaceful, joyous experience. Cost: free.

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Feeding the birds at Starkey Hill, Arkell

If you try one of these outdoor exercise spots out, let me know how you like it!