It’s easy to understand why people are attracted to gyms and fitness clubs. They have a fundamental magnetism rooted in the human need for community and routine. They’re predictable, accessible, and comfortable. They cater to our tendency to be creatures of habit and our undeniable need to be around like-minded individuals.
But the latest scientific research proves there are benefits associated with establishing a regular exercise regimen that has nothing to do with being in a gym, and everything to do with being outdoors in nature.
Whether it’s an organized activity or a simple commitment to walk the dog more often, getting outside to get fit benefits anyone and everyone.
When we engage in activity outdoors, our bodies change. We walk differently, exercise longer, burn more calories, and boost our Vitamin H2 (a.k.a. our health and happiness vitamin). Outdoor activity enhances our immune system, improves mental clarity, and most importantly, encourages an evolving personal connection to nature and the environment.
Time spent outdoors makes us more mindful and more intuitive. We become more present. We gain perspective and drop pretension. We connect to the natural rhythms of the world.
We become actively existent.
It also helps that outdoor activity is accessible, affordable and convenient for anyone, anytime, and anywhere. Varying terrain and contrasting climates provide endless inspiration, incentive to explore, and countless teachable moments that hone our intuition in ways indoor gyms and health clubs cannot hope to match.
Recent studies confirm individuals who exercise outdoors score significantly higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, gratification and self-esteem than those who exercise exclusively indoors. They also score lower on measures of tension, depression and post-activity fatigue.
Yes, we’re creatures of habit, but we didn’t evolve to spend our lives cooped up inside four walls spinning some fancy modern version of a hamster wheel. We’re creatures of this earth; therefore, it’s best for us to acknowledge this and design our exercise and workout plans accordingly.
Since it’s clear a strong connection to the outside world provides positive outcomes for our physiological, emotional, and physical well-being, what are we waiting for?
Okay, we know what you’re waiting for: autumn. It’s too hot out there right now!
That’s a fair point. Exercising outdoors in the heat can be oppressive, intense, and taxing on the body. But you can beat the summer heat by following theses ten tips:
- Find a park, path, track, trail or beach. If we can find a pleasant location with plenty of shade that’s close to home or work, we’re far more likely to adhere to a fitness regimen.
- Commit to a specific time of day. Generally speaking, any outdoor activity is a rewarding way to start the day. It also ensures cooler temperatures and limits over-exposure to harsh midday sun. Try to avoid outdoor workouts between 11 am and 4 pm.
- Wear proper clothing. In hot weather, proper clothing is important can make or break a workout. The ideal active wear for summer should be loose and light colored. Avoid dark colors, which attract light, and therefore heat. Tight fitting clothing can also hold heat. The rule of thumb: keep it light and keep it loose.
- Understand proper hydration. Outdoor activity during summer months will require extra hydration. The standard recommendation for adequate hydration is ½ of your body weight in ounces of water per day. Tip: drink a glass of water prior to heading outdoors to ensure you’re hydrated for the first 30 to 45 minutes of activity. You can also bring water along on longer runs, hikes, or bike rides.
- Don’t drink the “Kool-Aid.” Avoid sports drinks like Gatorade. Sure, they give you an energetic boost, but it comes with a cost. These drinks are supercharged with calories, sodium and sugar. Be mindful that muscle cramping is most likely caused by dehydration then by low electrolytes. Further, limiting sodium during exercise will help you to train your body to excrete less salt during exercise. Rule of thirst: water first!
- Find a buddy or join an activity group. Outdoor boot-camps, aquatic classes, water actives like kayaking, stand up paddling, etc. are tons of fun. Group activities and/or the buddy system can help us stick to our exercise plan, give us support, and generally lead to longer exercise sessions. The social aspect of these activities also does wonders for our overall sense of well-being.
- Honor your body. If you experience any of the following symptoms, cut your exercise session short: rapid heartbeat, light headedness, weakness, dizziness, paling of the skin, excessive cramping, and extreme nausea or vomiting. DO NOT POWER THROUGH THESE SYMPTOMS. Be mindful and maintain perspective. Keep in mind that some is better than none. Consistent movement is key. It’s the amount of activity you get throughout your day that matters, not just the length of one workout. Also, pay attention to your peers: if a workout buddy says something like, “Hey, you’re looking a little rough,” take a moment to check in with yourself before any of the above symptoms show up.
- Be proactive. Educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of H-E-A-T-S-T-R-O-K-E:
- High Fever (104 or Higher)
- Excessive (Fast) Heartbeat
- Abnormal (Fast) Breathing
- The Skin is Flushed (Red Appearance)
- Severe Headache
- The Lack of Sweating
- Real Dizziness and or a Feeling of Light Headedness
- Orientation is Impaired (Disorientated, Confused or Anxious)
- Known/Frequent vomiting
- Extreme Muscle Cramps and or Weakness
- Pay attention to the heat index. The heat index is not the same as the regular outside temperature. It’s a measurement of how hot it feels when relative humidity is combined with air temperature. It’s not a made-up thing—think of it as the summer version of the wind chill factor you’re familiar with from winter forecasts. A heat index of 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is dangerous. Avoid outdoor activities if the heat index is above 90. Weather apps or websites might call the heat index something like “Real Feel” or “Feels Like” temperature.
- Start cool. Start your workout with a cold shower will to help invigorate you and cool you down. Head out with your hair wet! If you don’t mind carrying a water bottle with you, fill it with cold water and pour a little on your head when and if you need a nice refreshing blast of coolness!