Parks or roads, head out

People who exercise outdoors tend to have lower blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol

Sumaya Dalmia
Published3 Mar 2014, 07:15 PM IST
Getting adequate sun exposure is critical for the synthesis of vitamin D<br />
Getting adequate sun exposure is critical for the synthesis of vitamin D

I have always envied the runners, the rollerbladders, and the boot campers who are out in the middle of the day in Europe. With their sports sunglasses, some sunscreen, dressed in just shorts and tees, they run under the bright sun, a comfortable breeze in the air. I have consoled myself by saying that in our country we are slave to the extreme weather conditions when it comes to deciding whether we will be indoors or outdoors when we exercise. More often than not, unless you have a 5am run, you will find yourself in the gym.

I am an outdoor person, I love how I feel when I run outside. Treadmills bore me, make me want to give up running. Outdoors, I feel happier, I can run longer distances because the change of scenery distracts me, and I feel that the run is tougher, even if I’ve covered the same distance on a treadmill. What’s more, it requires no equipment.

These next two months, happily, are great to take your exercise outdoors.

Working out in the open has both physiological and psychological benefits.

Exercising amid nature, far from the typical stressors of life, boosts a person’s mood and lowers tension, anxiety and stress levels. People who exercise outdoors tend to have lower blood levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress.

And from a physiological perspective, it feels easier on the body, but is actually giving you a more efficient workout.

For instance, when you run outdoors, your stride is different from what it would have been on a treadmill, and you flex your ankles differently. You have to, because the contour of the terrain is varied. Studies by the US’ National Institutes of Health found that when running on a treadmill, you expend less energy to go the same distance than if you were running outside.

We start losing bone density from about the age of 35, so there’s a greater risk of osteoporosis. Vitamin D is a key player in the fight against the bone-thinning disease because it regulates our calcium and phosphate levels, ensuring healthy bones and teeth. Low levels of vitamin D seem to be plaguing us, as most of us stay indoors and/or our present lifestyles prevent us from getting adequate sun exposure, which is critical for vitamin D synthesis.

Lately I have seen a lot of people trying to think out of the box for their fitness routines. Outdoor exercise clubs like boot camps, running clubs and cycling clubs seem to be sprouting. When outdoors, you often have the chance of choosing whether you want to exercise alone or in a group. So if you are seeking solitude, and a space to gather your thoughts, a solo run would be great. If you seek motivation, inspiration and some healthy competition, join one of these clubs.

Outdoor boot camps: Boot camps inherently replicate military-style training. The routine includes high-intensity cardio exercises alternating with strength exercises. Most exercises use your body weight as resistance, and have compound movements—like push-ups, sprinting, jumping.

A typical session would start with a running warm-up with some dynamic stretches, followed by exercises like the plank, frog walks, plank walks, squats, sprints, and other military drills. Boot camps are great for calorie-burn as they follow the high-intensity Interval Training principle where your body demands higher post-exercise oxygen consumption—this means your body needs high amounts of oxygen for recovery, and as a result, burns a whole lot of calories. The group energy during boot camps is also a great motivator. A typical session would burn 500-600 calories an hour.

Outdoor running:This will challenge you in many ways—it makes your body adapt to changes in temperature, running on a soft track puts less stress on your joints but at the same time works your muscles harder because of the changes in terrain that your body must adapt to. The shifting scenery also helps you run that extra mile. There are a lot of running clubs in Indian cities, and joining one is a good idea. Often these clubs will also help you learn running technique, stretching, and strength training for running. Or go solo, be with your thoughts, listen to the sounds of nature, and enjoy the greenery. Expect to burn 400-500 calories if you are running at 8km per hour.

Cycling: This is a great cardio workout, but puts much less stress on the joints. It’s a low-impact exercise, and is great for people with knee injuries or those who need to avoid high-impact exercises (like running, jumping or playing a sport) because of a medical condition. Low impact does not mean low benefits—a 1-hour bike ride can burn up to 600 calories.

It also provides great conditioning for the muscles of the lower body—the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves. Cycling also works the core as balancing the bike forces the deep abdominal muscles to work harder. You can cycle on a basic bike, or to challenge yourself, you can get a professional road bike that has gears to help vary the resistance. There are a lot of cycling clubs too, and they will tell you that nothing beats exploring cities or even the wilderness on a bike on a lovely weekend morning. When you head out, make sure to wear a helmet, reflective cycling jersey and the appropriate cycling gear.

Hiking/treks: There are enough places around metros for hiking. Hiking is good for overall fitness, as the trail itself challenges the body in different ways. Hiking is much more varied than many other types of exercise, particularly those undertaken in a gym. Not only can your workout be different each time, depending on the trail you take, but the landscape will also change, if only from the seasons. Hiking outdoors can help you to maintain your motivation for exercise by making it more interesting. The uphill and downhill variations challenge the lower body muscles. It is a great cardio workout, and good for building overall body strength. Either ways, expect to burn 350-500 calories in an hour.

Sumaya Dalmia is a wellness consultant, fitness expert and owner of Sumaya, a personal training studio in New Delhi.

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First Published:3 Mar 2014, 07:15 PM IST
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