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Stacy Berman

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The Benefits of Outdoor Exercise

Posted: 04/18/2012 9:09 am

The original all-terrain vehicle was the human body. Our cave dwelling ancestors might have a leg up when it comes to exercise routines. How can we train our bodies to wrestle sabertooth tigers or mastodons? Early man might not have left their workouts painted on cave walls, but they did leave us one big hint. If you want the best workout possible, go outside.

Polished stainless steel and touch screens look sleek, but they have nothing to do with fitness. As the flowers begin to bloom, its time to step outside and enjoy a workout in the fresh air. Spring is a perfect time to escape from the gym so you never have to sit on a sweaty machine again. Exercising outdoors is challenging, saves time, and studies are finding that it can actually make you feel better.

Go for a Run

Why would running outside be any different that running on a treadmill? The drawback of treadmills and ellipticals is that you run in place. Whether its the turning belt of a treadmill or the spinning gears of an elliptical, the machine is doing some of the work for you. When you run outside, you provide the movement. Both activities may look similar, but running outside will increase your work load from 2 percent to 10 percent through air resistance. As you transition from a walk to a run the wind resistance increases. So as you improve, running naturally becomes more difficult.

Stop Reading

I always tell clients, if you can read a book while exercising, you are not doing it properly. Workouts are very similar to sex. Your performance depends on your level of involvement. When you go for a jog, your brain does not zone out like it does at the gym. We must be constantly aware of our changing environment. By actively engaging our surroundings, we enhance our proprioceptive capabilities.

Proprioception is the fancy word for keeping track of your limbs in space. It is the basis of things like "hand eye coordination." It is not a reflex but a skill we can develop over time. Activities like running outside maximize the coordination between our nervous system and muscles. Why is this important? Whether you are trying to catch a coffee mug about to crash to the floor or grab your child's hand when it darts toward an electrical socket, we can all benefit from increased reaction time and proprioception.

Less Weight, More Strength

Most of us don't want to look like a muscle head reject from the Jersey Shore. We want to be lean and strong, but not bulky. The easiest way to avoid exercise machines is to go outside. There are no machines in the park.

Body weight training is the most effective way to maximize overall health and well being. Let us compare a leg press machine to a basic squat. A leg press machine has us seated with the weights running along a rail. There is no coordination needed. You push with your legs as your body is held in place by the seat (some machines even come with seat belts). It deprives your core, hip and stabilizer muscles of any practice.

If we look at a body weight squat, the same leg muscles are engaged, but everything from your core to your toes are working to stay balanced and upright. As you squat, your weight is being transferred throughout your lower body. Body weight squats are harder, require zero equipment and are guaranteed to be perfectly matched to your size.

Smile -- It's Good for You

"Go outside, its good for you," my mother used to say to me. Maybe mom was right. Being outside has a number of health benefits. Our bodies need Vitamin D, which comes from the sun. We don't produce it naturally. Twenty minutes outside is enough exposure for an average adult. What happens if we are Vitamin D deficient? In a word, depression. Vitamin D deficiency is a major component in seasonal depression. Studies have shown that participants who exercise outdoors feel revitalized, have increased energy levels, and feel more satisfied. At the same time they decrease their levels of tension, depression and anger.

So while engineers try to invent the next fitness machine, save yourself the trouble. Lace up your shoes and go find reason to be in the sun.

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