5 Steps to Move Your Fitness Routine Outside

Fresh air, sunshine and new surroundings can do wonders for your workout. Learn how to safely transition your routine outdoors.

Three women power walking on a sunny path in a park

by NEA Member Benefits

Even if you love the cold, chances are the polar vortex has kept many of you exercising indoors a lot more this winter. Now that it’s spring, you can ditch your four walls for sunshine and fresh air. “Exercising in natural surroundings improves self-esteem, improves your mood and sleep and taking in the scenery beats workout boredom,” says Cathleen London, triathlete and an MD in family practice in New York City.

So if you’ve been trapped indoors, try these five tips to help make your transition from inside to outdoors a safe and rewarding one.

1. Start by viewing the world as a big outdoor gym. Enjoy the fresh air, a change of scenery and be creative! Plan a new walking route, find a peaceful hiking trail or join an outdoor pool. Many neighborhoods have playgrounds, jungle gyms and walking paths that can take the place of indoor equipment. Or walk the outdoor track at your school as part of your routine.

An added bonus: Just going outside encourages being active, whether you’re working in the yard, walking to the store or playing with your dog. You’ll have more opportunities to exercise, without having to view it as formal workout time. It becomes play. “Without realizing it, you’re adding 30 minutes to two hours of exercise,” depending on the activity, says Dr. London. “Plus you’ll feel less stressed.”

2. Learn your route beforehand. Whether you decide to power walk down the city streets or mountain bike along a remote wooded trail, the distractions of your surroundings take your mind off the work of working out. As a result, you’ll end up going a lot farther than if you’d been walled in. “You can press ‘stop’ on a treadmill, but you can’t turn back time after you’ve walked or jogged three or more miles,” says Kristin Anderson, a personal trainer in West Hollywood. Learn about the area where you want to exercise so you can familiarize yourself with hills, traffic patterns, unpaved surfaces and flat stretches. This will help you gauge how far you’ll want to go so you won’t overdo it, plus it will help keep you from getting lost.

3. Transition from treadmill to terrain. Now that you have your route or activities in mind, understand that walking or running on uneven surfaces engages more muscles, particularly the ones in your feet, ankles and shins. It also works all the core muscles in your torso including your abs, back and pelvis; it’s their job to keep you stabilized and help with balance. You may be perfectly fine on a treadmill but end up in pain after running or walking outside. “If you have soreness in those rarely used smaller muscles below the knee,” for example, “take a day or two off and then resume without going as far,” says Viktoria Telek owner of the South Beach Bootcamp in Miami. Start out small, especially if you are new to exercising outside, and build up to longer workouts.

4. Suit up right. Regardless of the temperature, wearing properly fitted, supportive clothing and sneakers is crucial for any outdoor workout. Dress for 20 degrees warmer than it actually is so you’re comfortable when your body warms up, and consider wearing a piece you can shed in case you get too hot. When shopping for your perfect shoe, ask a salesperson for help and tell her about any injuries or concerns you have. Be sure to wear a shoe meant for your specific activity. If you’re used to wearing a watch, pedometer or heart rate monitor indoors, feel free to take them outside, too. And don’t forget your water bottle so you can stay hydrated.

5. Find your tribe. If you need some added structure to help you get out the door, check out your local community centers and your department of parks and recreation for free or low-cost memberships to pools, tennis courts and more. Go online and look for outdoor fitness meetup.com groups such as yoga, bootcamp and kettlebell, or connect with other runners, walkers, paddlers and even stroller power walkers. Find a walking club at mywalkingclub.org or find trails nearby for hiking, skiing, rock climbing and more at everytrail.com.

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