3 Reasons to Take Your Workouts Outside
By Colleen Salgado, Health & Wellness Director at the Schlessman Family YMCA.
Summer is here, and in Colorado we’re fortunate to have plenty of sunshine, low humidity and mountains of recreation opportunities right in our backyard. Here are three reasons to take advantage of the long days and head outdoors for health and wellness.
1. It boosts the mood.
More than anything, going outside is good for your spirit. When you’re outside, you see, smell and hear things you wouldn’t experience indoors, which stimulates the senses.
In addition, being outdoors exposes us to sun. While sunscreen is of course important, being in the sun regulates the production of melatonin in our bodies. According to research published in Environmental Health Perspectives, this can help prevent insomnia, premenstrual syndrome and seasonal affective disorder. Exposure to sun also improves serotonin levels, which can result in less stress, more positive moods and a “calm, yet focused” mental outlook. This means simply: Sun makes us happy!
2. It sharpens the mind.
As we age, we begin to lose receptors in the brain, resulting in decreases in balance, cognitive function and short-term memory. For people over 50 or for those recovering from trauma to the brain, the ability for the remaining receptors to connect also decreases.
However, when we walk outside, it’s possible to replace and repair those receptors. Every step we take sends a signal from the foot, up through the spinal column, to the brain. The brain shoots back down a signal telling the foot how to realign and reset balance before we take the next step. Creating more of this rapid communication between the body and the brain helps keep the mind challenged. This, in turn, improves the ability to think and process.
3. It strengthens the body.
Walking outside does even more wonders. When we get used to walking in the same places or indoors, our bodies simply adjust. But when we go outside to walk, our bodies must negotiate new terrain. They must maneuver over cracks, slants or uneven terrain. This activates different muscle groups and further engages our legs, core and abdominals.
Walking or not, being outside in the sun also maximizes the body’s production of Vitamin D, which can promote strong bones, disease prevention, a healthier immune system and even weight loss. On the flip side, not getting enough Vitamin D can result in tiredness, aches and pain, and severe bone or muscle pain. Yes, you can get Vitamin by taking a supplement. But you can also just take a stroll in the sunshine, which sounds much better!
What to do outdoors
With benefits for the spirit, mind and body, it makes sense to get outside to get fit and active. In addition to walking, Colorado is ideal for biking, jogging, hiking and kayaking. It’s also fun to focus on the “play” in working out with games like badminton, volleyball, basketball, or hopscotch with the kids.
The YMCA hosts cycling classes that meet for regular weekly outings, including the “Sticky Bun Riders” club, which takes a 27-mile ride every Sunday through Red Rocks Park. Additional Y outdoor programs are being formed such as outdoor walking and outdoor yoga. Everyone is welcome!
What to keep in mind
Of course, as you head outside, it is important to keep safety in mind. I like to remind people of these tips:
- When walking outside, partner up. Or, let people know where you’re going and when to expect you back.
- Sunshine is good for you – but sun damage isn’t. Remember the sunscreen!
- If you have sensitive skin or allergies, take steps to mitigate them before you head outside.
- Wear the right shoes – A long walk will require more than sandals or flip-flops.
- Bring a snack. If you’re going to be outside a while, bring a combination of protein and carbs to refuel.
- Finally, stay hydrated. A good rule of thumb is 1 ounce for every minute of high-intensity activity.
Summer is the perfect time to get out there and get fit, have fun and stay safe. For more ways to live healthy outdoors -- and indoors -- all year long, contact the health and wellness professionals at the YMCA!
Colleen Salgado is the Health & Wellness Director at the Schlessman Family YMCA. A fitness instructor for many years, Colleen is certified in ACE personal training, AFAA Group Fitness, SilverSneakers, Zumba, Les Mills, Madd Dog, Yoga, Pilates and willPower & grace. She welcomes visitors and new Y members to her classes!