Have your workouts become as exciting to you as watching a mouse run on a wheel? Why not take it outside? Exercising outdoors can be a new adventure each time you slip on your walking shoes and grab a bottle of water. Think fresh air, sunshine, trees, grass, chirping birds – you get the idea. And, it’s free.
The latest scientific research indicates that spending time in nature has a positive effect on our mental and emotional states as well as our overall health. A 2011 review of 38 different research projects published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health concluded that subjects suffering from a wide variety of physical and mental problems experienced a reduction in symptoms with some form of “nature-assisted therapy.” Patients with congestive heart failure who took part in a gardening program showed significantly improved heart rate and mood scores. Obese subjects placed on an outdoor exercise program had greater weight loss than their counterparts exercising indoors. And a nature program improved mental focus while reducing anger and depression in breast cancer and dementia patients.
These results are supported by researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, who analyzed 11 different trials involving 833 adults comparing the effects of exercising outdoors and indoors. In their findings published in Environmental Science & Technology in 2011, they concluded that citizens in areas of the greatest greenery were three times more likely to be active and 40 percent less likely to be obese. In addition, the majority of outdoor exercisers were more inclined to stick with a workout routine than those training indoors.
FIND A LOCATION
Since there are so many types of green spaces, ranging from wilderness areas and wildlife reserves to urban parks and running tracks, you should take the time to scope out your neighborhood to see what works for you. What location is close by or even within walking distance? What is the most appealing? Are the kinds of activities you enjoy suitable to this location? Is the space conducive to group activities or one-on- one workouts?
CHOOSE THE BEST WORKOUT FOR YOU
Being aware of the wide variety of workouts you can participate in outdoors will help you decide where you want to go. Here are a few options:
- Powerwalk/jog: You can make your entire workout a brisk walk with intervals of jogging or even sprinting. Although you can walk almost anywhere, it is more fun in a scenic park (most have jogging paths) or along the beach. Remember to start slow, choose a distance that is doable, and then continue to challenge yourself by increasing the speed and the distance as you get stronger and gain stamina. And always stretch AFTER your muscles are warmed up. And if all else fails, start by walking your dog.
- Outdoor sports: tennis, swimming, bicycling, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, horseback riding.(NOTE: These require specific equipment to purchase and you may need to join a team or club.)
- Running stairs: One of the most famous set of stairs for workout fanatics is the Santa Monica Stairs—a pair of outdoor staircases in California near Pacific Palisades descending Santa Monica Canyon. At any time, day or evening, you will find dozens of folks running up and down all 160-170 steps with the steely resolve of marathon runners. If you are looking to burn calories, increase stamina as well as core and leg strength, this might be for you. Many stair steppers continue to challenge themselves as well as add variety, by taking two steps at a time, walking sideways, and alternating between running and walking. You can find stairs in almost every city, including stadium steps. Realistically, all you need is one small flight of stairs to get you going, but make sure they are sturdy, safe, and not heavily trafficked. If it is a good location, there will very likely be other exercisers already using them.
- Circuit training: Along with a jogging path, some parks have a workout area with equipment, including a sign at each station describing the exercise and the body part you are working. And if they don’t have anything that detailed, you can always do pull-ups on the monkey bars and push-ups and crunches on the ground (bring a mat). If there is a park bench, do step-ups for legs and triceps dips for arms. Use three to five-pound weights for biceps curls, shoulder presses, single arm rows, and lunges. Stretchy bands are also great for a variety of exercises. Just attach them to the monkey bars and get creative!
- Yoga: Doing yoga outside is so much fun and so “zen.” Since the purpose of yoga is not only to increase your flexibility, balance, coordination, and muscle strength, but to bring you into oneness of mind, body, and spirit, there is nothing better than to practice outside. If you are new to yoga, join an outdoor class and see if you like it. There are classes in local parks and scenic locations everywhere that encourage you to connect with nature. Often, the class ends with a meditation which is a tool for maximizing your inner peace.
- Hiking: Depending on where you live, there are usually hiking trails through the hills, canyons, or along bodies of water. Start with a distance you are comfortable with and then increase the distance and the difficulty of the hike as you gain strength and stamina. Some national or state parks have organized group hikes which might be a great way to gain skills and safety measures from those who are more experienced.
- Tai Chi: Almost all Tai Chi classes are conducted outside. For many practitioners, it becomes a daily morning routine. Although slow and steady, Tai Chi has many health benefits, including developing breathing techniques, balance and coordination, and is known to promote longevity.
- Boot camp: If you want to really challenge yourself, try an outdoor boot camp. They provide all the equipment and offer a rigorous total body workout designed by professional trainers to get you in great shape—if you can hang in there. Think “Biggest Loser”- style workout.
MAKE IT A ROUTINE
Once you’ve found your outdoor groove, write it into your schedule. It will become a habit if you do one of these things every day for 21 days straight – even if on some days you simply walk your dog around the neighborhood. Once it’s a habit, you will not have to force yourself to get your outdoor workout in. You may even look forward to it!
Outdoor exercise is generally more strenuous and trains more stabilizing muscles than indoor surfaces, so you get a more challenging workout. Getting outdoors has been shown to increase vitality and pleasure, while lowering depression and fatigue.
Disclaimer: All content on this website is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this website and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always consult with your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.