Using Nature to Boost Your Fitness & Health

March 2021 - Active Lifestyle

Finding new ways to boost our physical and mental health in this unprecedented time of limitations has become both a huge challenge and priority. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. The answer is as simple as: get outside.
Research shows exercising outdoors can enhance your health benefits above that of exercising indoors, in areas such as: reduced inflammation; improved memory, sleep quality, and blood sugar levels; and self-reported improved health, happiness, self-esteem, and overall life satisfaction.

Studies show that exercising outside elevates performance levels compared to the same activity performed inside (e.g., people walk faster outdoors than indoors), and people report a lower rating of perceived exertion while doing so (e.g., they feel like they are using less effort) which makes exercising outside an easy way to increase your overall physical activity and do so more pleasurably.

Get ready to use the outdoors to boost your fitness and health.

Workout 1: HIIT and Run, or Walk

Elevate your regular run or walk by adding exercise stations along your route for a HIIT (high intensity interval training) type of workout.

1: Plan Your Route & Exercise Stations Ahead
On your run or walk, mentally select various structures or landmarks as exercise stations. Stop at each station along your route and perform one of following exercises for 1 minute before continuing on:

Try These

HIIT and Run, or Walk
  • Station 1 (Park bench): incline or decline push-ups
  • Station 2 (Oak tree): sustained tree squat
  • Station 3 (Parking lines): skater hops back and forth
  • Station 4 (Fallen tree): quick toe taps on stump
  • Station 5 (Stairs): sprint up and down the steps

2: Stop-and-Drop Run
On your run or walk, choose a landmark like a blue house, for instance, that you “stop-and-drop” at and do 1 minute of a single exercise like jumping jacks or air squats before continuing on.

Workout 2: Playground Circuit

Playgrounds offer a cornucopia of fitness challenges! They have been built to facilitate children’s physical abilities in many ways: balance, spatial awareness, strength, and agility. And you can use it for the same benefits! Get creative and incorporate some of these structures into your next workout, and you and your kids will have a load of fun together…or get a unique workout in yourself if they are busy hanging with their squad.

Try These

  • Monkey bars: upper body strength (think: pull ups)
  • Spider web structure: coordination training
  • Pull-up bars: hanging knee-ups
  • Swings: your outdoor suspension training system (think: elevated planks)

Workout 3: Hill or Stair Challenge

Hills and stairs are love-to-hate structures, but so key to function. Challenge yourself to walk stairs or hills regularly to keep your balance on-point and muscles strong. If you’re ready to take it up a level, add some variation. Switch up your direction, speed, or pattern on the hill or stairs.

Try These

  • Walk backwards or sideways
  • Lunge walk up
  • Squat walk down
  • Skip or high knees up
  • Slo-mo walk up/down

Workout 4: Walk It Out

Walking is often overlooked but it’s a fantastic way to get exercise. Vary your pace and change your surroundings regularly to get these additional benefits in addition to the cardio, fresh air, and good company:

Try These

  • Vary surfaces (try grass, dirt paths, and sand): increased balance, foot/ankle strength
  • Wear a backpack or weighted vest: increased resistance for bone density
  • Find a forest; climb over logs and rocks: improved agility and proprioception
  • Silly walks (try side-shuffles, grapevines, and toe/heel walks): improved strength and agility

Workout 5: Escape to Nature

Escaping your day-to-day routine and improving your health and fitness really can be as simple as stepping out the front door. Make a point of putting some play back in your day. Get back outside, into nature…and have some fun outdoors this spring!

Try These

  • Go geocaching or orienteering
  • Find some waterfalls
  • Discover new trails by foot or bike
  • Forage in the forest
  • Paddle a local lake

Getting out into nature is a simple way to jumpstart your health and fitness this season. With a few additions and a little creativity, you can easily reap the benefits of exercise at a whole new level. 

TAMMY UYEDA, BSc(PT) is a clinical Physiotherapist, certified group fitness instructor and owner of FitSpark Health. She is passionate about motivating and inspiring people to an active lifestyle and can usually be found shuttling her three pre-teen and teenaged sons between soccer fields. She shares workouts, exercise tips, and her favourite fitness-related finds on her Instagram page @tinkam

Article was published in The Good Life magazine.

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