Fitness centres, such as swimming pools and health clubs are great for providing us with warm, comfortable environments to carry out our exercise programmes, especially during the dark winter months but, when the sun is shining and the weather is warm, it is worth considering what the great outdoors has to offer. In an earlier article, we spoke about finding alternatives to the gym, well here are some more ideas to help you benefit from natureís gym.
As spring and summer approaches, it is time to think about getting outside and enjoying all the benefits of exercising in the great outdoors. And it is also worth remembering that not only is exercise good for you physically, but there is a body of evidence that suggests that getting a regular dose of vitamin D from the sun’s rays will improve your mental health as well. The online health journal Environmental Health Perspectives, has linked higher vitamin D levels, from exposure to sunlight, with serotonin production ñ serotonin being a mood enhancer. While EHP warns of the dangers of excessive sunlight, it seems some daily sunlight can improve your mood. So, the message is: slip on your trainers but remember to slap on your sun-screen and have a go at some of these fun, energetic and exciting activities. And, of course, the beauty of many of these activities is that they are free or cheap to do.
Walking to fitness
The easiest and cheapest activity you can do is to get out and walk. A 20-minute walk every day could have a number of health benefits. It improves muscle endurance and strength in the lower body; it is good for the bones and improves the body’s cardiovascular system.
Besides the health benefits, walking can offer so much more. Walking allows you to explore your neighbourhood and see it through fresh eyes, you can organise to meet with friends and add a coffee break to your route, you can combine walking with your chores ñ walk to get a newspaper or post a letter. Getting off the bus or train one stop early could offer you the chance to get a walk in before work, meaning you arrive at your workplace with your heart rate pumping and the blood pumping around your body.
If you want to increase the challenge of your daily walk, consider joining a Nordic Walking group. This is a slightly more hard-core version of walking. Nordic Walking uses poles, so that walkers get an upper body work out as well. The poles, which are specially constructed for this activity, take the weight off your knees and lower body joints and make you walk with your shoulders and upper body well-balanced.
All the skill, all the thrill
For a step out of the ordinary, get your friends out for an impromptu game of frisbee. This a great way to get involved in competitive sport as well as enjoy socialising with friends. The constant catching, throwing, running and changing direction hits so many fitness buttons ñ co-ordination, balance, speed, endurance to name a few.
Getting creative with fitness
The obvious problem with any group activity, such as frisbee, is the need for a certain number of players. Usually, you will be alone or with just a couple of companions when you are getting your exercise. But that doesn’t mean your activity must stick to one routine or become boring. By thinking outside the box, you may discover all sorts of ways to stay active. One idea is to use your local environment to create your own outdoor gym. All you really need for an effective workout is a space in which to move. This might be a local park, a wooded area, a beach or even your own back garden.
You can design a circuit that you do regularly or you can devise some new activities every time you step outside your door. Here are a few ideas:
- Jump repeatedly over a log or low fence – this will work your lower limbs and hip flexors.
- Do pull-ups on an overhead branch or bar. This action will stretch your back mus cles and work your shoulder and arm muscles.
- Do pace change activities between natural markers. You can use trees, bushes, rocks or or any definable object to do some change of pace work. Jog until you reach your first marker, run more briskly to the next object and then go as fast as you feel you can to the next marker. Repeat this for a set number of times.