When summer weather beckons, it’s smart to take your workout outdoors. The closer to nature, the better.
Just 5 minutes of physical activity in a “green” setting, whether it’s a city park or miles of open country, can do wonders for your mood and self-esteem, according to a British study of 1,252 women and men of all ages. Walking or cycling along a nature trail, horseback riding, kayaking, gardening, or virtually any other outdoor activity delivered equal mood-boosting benefits. Nature also reduces stress and makes people more caring and generous, according to a study at the University
If you’re used to indoor exercise, going outdoors offers an additional perk. “It’s a different environment for your lungs and makes you work harder,” says Lacey Stone, a Los Angeles-based celebrity trainer. The change also adds variety, which improves overall fitness results. And then there’s the obvious: It’s fun.
In the City
City parks and green areas are great spaces for walking, running, and other exercises, and can provide some different equipment. As one option, Stone suggests a routine in a playground, such as this:
- On the swings, do five to 10 swings and jump off.
- Pull yourself up and across the monkey bars.
- Do some lunges, alternating sides, for a total of 10 on each side.
- Use the slide.
- Do as many push-ups as you can.
- Take a short break if you need to, and repeat the steps one or two more times.
Cities also have nature trails that may challenge you to different degrees. To find trails near you and connect with walking or running groups, or start your own, check out mapmywalk.com.
In the Country
A weekend hiking or biking getaway, or even a day trip can be rejuvenating, especially if you allow yourself to disconnect from electronic devices. People who went backpacking for four days, without electronic devices, improved their creative problem-solving abilities by 50 percent, in a study by the University of Utah and University of Kansas.
National parks offer inexpensive access to plenty of open spaces. Depending on the trail, hiking can be quite intense, but there are also easy trails. To explore, visit the National Park Service at nps.gov, and trails.com.
Avoiding Dehydration Hazards
When switching to outdoor workouts, hydration is important. If the air is really dry, you might not notice that you’re sweating buckets, even if you don’t feel as though you’re exercising intensely.
“It’s not about how hard you’re working but how hard you’re sweating,” says Fabio Comana, faculty instructor for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. “If you’re more fit, you sweat sooner and more.”
Thirst, says Comana, is only one sign of dehydration. Others include cramping, disorientation, lightheadedness, pale skin, and fatigue. However, if you experience nausea, vomiting, or a weak, rapid pulse, that’s heat exhaustion, and the next stage is potentially fatal heat stroke. Stop, hydrate, get out of the heat, and take a cool shower or bath.
As a general rule, Comana recommends drinking 17 to 20 ounces of water, 2 to 3 hours before a workout. While exercising, get 7 to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes. If you’re working out for more than an hour, he recommends adding electrolytes to your water.
- Given the same temperature, humidity, and exercise routine, no two people will lose exactly the same amount of fluid. This, says Comana, is the best way to tell if you’re staying hydrated:
- Just before and after a workout, weigh yourself. If you need to use the bathroom at either time, do it before getting on the scale.
- If you lose 2 percent of your weight (for example, a 3-pound drop if you weigh 150 pounds), or more, you need more fluid during your workout.
Electrolytes are minerals that our nerves and muscles need for normal electrical signaling within our bodies—controlling muscle contractions and relaxation, for example. Sweating during exercise can deplete electrolytes, especially sodium and potassium, as well as calcium and magnesium. Symptoms of a shortfall can include fatigue, muscle spasms, weakness, numbness, twitching, and an irregular heartbeat.
Regular sports drinks are one way to replace electrolytes, but they can also contain sugars and artificial additives. Other, often more natural, options include natural sports drinks and electrolyte powders that are added to water. Some powders also contain vitamins or herbs to boost performance, improve recovery, or provide additional nutritional support, such as extra vitamin C. And some come in tablets.
Many natural formulations and flavors are available in single-serve packets. They’re easy to carry, convenient, and let you use your own favorite water bottle.