April 14, 2015 Healthy Living

Outdoor Fitness For All

Ah, spring. What is it about this season that makes us want to kick our fitness routines into high gear? Is it the longer days and warmer temperatures? Or the imminent arrival of summer (read: shorts and swimsuit season)? Either way, the vast majority of us can’t wait to break free from the confines of the gym, bid farewell to the treadmill/elliptical/bike for at least the next six months, and head outside.

Challenge your body, energize your mind

For some, the idea of an outdoor fitness routine may be intimidating or raise doubts about the quality of their workouts. If you fall into this category, you can breathe easy. Fitness experts agree that you can get a better, more challenging workout outside and burn more calories thanks to the varied terrain (e.g., hills, gravelly roads, grass, etc.) and even the elements. Ever try to run, or walk for that matter, on a windy day? You just can’t replicate that same resistance on a treadmill.

Here are some other reasons to consider exercising al fresco:

  • You’ll likely go farther and last longer. When you’re distracted by the environment, you’re less aware of how hard you’re working. Time goes by faster and before you know it, you’ve increased your distance and your workout time.
  • You’ll save money. While gym memberships are certainly nice to have during the winter, they aren’t exactly cheap. Some gyms offer the option to put your membership on hold for a few months. It’s definitely worth checking into and your membership will be there for you once the weather takes a turn for the worse.
  • You’ll be happier. I’ve already extolled the virtues of outdoor fitness for your body, so what about your mind? Studies show that breathing fresh air will help you feel more revitalized and energized, have a better outlook on life, and feel less stressed.
  • You’ll think more clearly. There’s something about being outside and close to nature that’s almost therapeutic for our over-sensitized, over-stimulated, stressed brains. A walk or run on the treadmill just isn’t the same.
  • You can work out whenever you want. The outdoors is always open and ready to go. No waiting in lines to use machines and no adhering to class schedules. You have the option to exercise whenever and wherever is convenient.

Outdoor fitness ideas

Walking and running are obvious, but nonetheless beneficial, options for getting in a good workout outside, and the Capital Region offers numerous outdoor spots where you can enjoy your favorite activity. If you’re looking to mix things up a bit and prevent boredom, try these suggestions. As always, make sure you check with your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen.

  • Swimming: This full-body cardio workout is easy on the joints and it strengthens muscles. Luckily, the Capital Region offers myriad lakes, rivers, and ponds, so dive in!
  • Bicycling: An ideal group activity, biking allows you to socialize while burning calories and improving your cardio. To make it more fun, choose a café that’s a few miles away and plan to bike there, instead of drive, with your friends or family each week.
  • Hiking: We’re fortunate to have the Adirondack Mountains within a few hours’ drive. Even if you’re not up for tackling a high peak, the smaller mountains in the Lake George area, for example, are ideal for beginners and offer incredible views. You’ll get a fantastic workout while enjoying some pretty amazing scenery.

Other options

Staying fit doesn’t always mean taking to the road to bike or run. The following exercises require zero equipment and you can do them in your own backyard.

  • Calisthenics: Do 30 seconds of each move for a quick workout or even to warm up: side shuffle, grapevine, high knees, mountain climbers, skaters, jumping jacks, and burpees.
  • Body weight strength-training exercises: Do 10 to 15 repetitions of each and repeat two times: walking lunges, push-ups, squats, planks, crunches, leg raises, and low-back extensions.

Safety first

After being confined to the gym all winter, you might be eager to get outside and hit the ground running … or walking or biking. Before you do, review some exercise safety tips and guidelines to get the most out of the warmer months ahead.

Let’s start with running:

  • Take it slow at first. Remember that treadmills provide a safe, controlled, consistent, predictable environment, whereas outside, you’re constantly adapting to a changing grade and pitch, as well as uneven surfaces. Plus, asphalt and concrete don’t offer as much give as a treadmill, so do your joints a favor and keep your runs on the slower, shorter side to start.
  • New shoes? Break them in. A lot of runners I know, including yours truly, use the transition to the outdoors as a good excuse to buy new shoes. To prevent blisters, make sure your shoes are broken in before you head out for that first jog of the season. You can ensure you’re buying the best shoe for your foot shape and running style by taking a few other factors into consideration.
  • Dress for the weather. Springtime can still be a little on the chilly side. A good rule of thumb is to dress for 10 degrees warmer and wear layers that can easily be removed.
  • Hydrate! Just because it’s not blazing hot quite yet doesn’t mean you’re not sweating and losing fluids. Make sure you drink water before and after your run.

On to biking:

  • Take it slow at first. Even if you’ve been frequenting spinning classes all winter, don’t try to push yourself to see how far and fast you can go. Like running, you’ll want to adapt to different road conditions and weather before logging some mileage.
  • Spin bikes are different from road bikes. The positioning of your saddle and handlebars, as well as the general fit of the bike, may take some getting used to. Your sit bones, neck, and shoulders might be sore for the first few days.
  • Check your equipment. Make sure your tires have enough air, that your helmet fits well and isn’t cracked, and that your gears and brakes work properly.
  • Stay aware of road conditions. Use caution when riding on wet roads, as they may be a bit slick. The same goes for excess sand and dirt, which may cause your tires to slide. Also, keep an eye out for various obstacles and potholes, as well as cars.
  • Leave your tunes at home. As much as you enjoy listening to your favorite music while you work out, you’d be wise to forgo the earbuds so that you can stay aware of traffic and your fellow cyclists.


Run, walk, or bike for a cause

CDPHP sponsors numerous events that benefit the community. Here’s a list of runs, walks, and bike rides to add to your calendar.


Photo by davebloggs007 / CC BY

Erin Blakesley
About the Author

Erin joined CDPHP in 2008 as a health promotion coordinator in the population health and wellness department. She assists employer groups with offering health and wellness programs for their employees and is instrumental in planning numerous community events. In addition, Erin helps develop the free wellness class schedule for CDPHP members. A nurse with experience in fitness training, Erin is excited to educate the community about the importance of health and wellness.

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