Fun & Fresh Air: Time to Go Outside!

by Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES on Nov 21, 2012

Treadmills, ellipticals, indoor cycling classes—sometimes the same old thing becomes, well, old. To alleviate the boredom members sometimes feel, and that ultimately may reduce their motivation to exercise, many club owners and managers are shaking up their schedules by offering programs outside. The change of scenery and the different activity options make this type of training a win-win for members and instructors. It’s exciting to do something new, and it keeps everyone motivated.

Why Outside?

Currently, we spend the majority of our time indoors. Most of us wake up, drive to work, work all day and drive home to finish our day relaxing there. The average person is lucky to be outdoors walking to and from his car! Some people will go a whole week at a stretch without spending time in the fresh air. Intuitively, your clients know there are benefits to being in the outdoor air, but they may not always have the opportunity to experience it.

The benefits of outdoor exercise are countless:

  • Participants get the opportunity to meet like-minded people who enjoy the same activities. This meeting promotes a social connection between members that they may not get from working out solo in the gym. The connection, in turn, improves exercise adherence.
  • Being outdoors for part of the day helps reset circadian rhythms and balances hormones. Circadian rhythms are the rhythms of our internal body clock, which can be strongly disrupted if we are not exposed to adequate natural light during the day.
  • Outdoor activities are appropriate for all age groups.
  • Fresh air, plants and other outdoor elements have a profound, positive effect on both our physical and mental well-being. Plants and trees are living, breathing air filters. They detoxify the air by absorbing many substances that can be harmful to humans, like excess carbon dioxide and dust particles. They also create oxygen, which we need to live and to function.
  • Time outdoors provides our daily dose of vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D offers significant disease prevention benefits for osteoporosis, some forms of cancer and heart disease (Mackarey 2010).

Types of Programs

The kinds of outdoor activities you select will depend on your clients’ likes, dislikes and goals. You’ll also be limited by the equipment you have, but your imagination is not limited—so be creative and draw on your imagination to design the workout and generate excitement for the program (Scanlin 2007). Use the environment around you as much as possible. For example, hit local parks, hiking trails, bike paths, lakes and pools. The following examples can help get you started on your outdoor programming options.

Walking. One of the easiest outdoor activities you can do with your clients is lead them in brisk outdoor walks. Walking is easy on the joints, and you don’t need to bring any equipment. Furthermore, almost anyone can do it, regardless of fitness level. You can keep the activity as simple as walking around the gym or the local neighborhood, or seek out hiking trails in the area for a little more of a challenge. The great thing about walking outside rather than on the treadmill is the ever-changing terrain. This challenges the body to move in ways it isn’t used to, such as side to side, up and down and diagonally. These movements help build muscle and strengthen joints throughout the body.

Obstacle Courses. Whether you use your parking lot or a local park, you can design fun obstacle courses. Use cones, balls, curbs, benches and anything you can think of to create a course that will challenge your members. Between obstacles, lead your clients in exercises such as jumping jacks, lunges, rope jumping or jogging in place to keep heart rates up. Each day you can offer something different.

Other Ideas. Here are some additional activities that may work for your business:

  • teaching Pilates at a local park or beach
  • utilizing local basketball and tennis courts and soccer fields
  • running the stairs at a local arena
  • conducting outdoor boot camps
  • snowshoeing

For other outdoor exercise ideas, please see “Fresh-Air Fitness” in the online IDEA Library or in the July 2012 issue of IDEA Fitness Manager.

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About the Author

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES IDEA Author/Presenter

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES, is a certified health education specialist with a master’s degree in public health from the University of South Carolina. She currently resides in Connecticut, where sh...