We all know that exercise is important for good physical health, but what if it could also be more fun and improve your mood? It can! Research has shown that exercising around nature – like trees, grass, and especially water – may improve your exercise experience. For instance, some who exercised outside reported that they could work out harder without it feeling difficult. Some people noted improvements in mood and stress level that lasted after the outdoor activity ended. Finally, some who exercised outside reported that they enjoyed their exercise more. These combined benefits may help people enjoy being active, rather than feeling like it is a chore!
Exercising outside also allows you to get to know your community and experience some of the natural beauty of where you live. In Maryland, there are 13 national parks, 72 state parks, and numerous local parks that offer activities like hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, and more. Maryland also offers a coastline, the Chesapeake Bay, and many rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. All of these wonderful natural resources offer so many locations where people can spend time near the water or amongst the trees.
If you just want a break from paying that gym membership, exercising outside provides an excellent, low-cost way to get moving. While some parks may charge a small entrance fee, many do not charge at all! Some even offer group exercise classes, walking trails, exercise equipment, sports fields, and other areas to meet the needs of a variety of people.
Since we’re currently in the dog days of summer, make sure you prepare for the heat:
- Check the weather before you exercise. Be wary of Code Orange and Red Days—probably best to avoid exercising outside on these days, especially mid-day.
- Workout when and where it’s naturally cooler. Get out in the mornings (before 10 a.m.) or evenings (after 7 p.m.) to avoid the mid-day heat. Go to locations near water or under tree cover for breezier and shadier options.
- Pay attention to how you feel rather than time or distance targets. Your exercise performance may decrease in the heat and humidity, so consider decreasing your effort or time. You will eventually get acclimated. Stop immediately if you feel faint, dizzy, or nauseous. Know when to seek medical help.
- Make sure you stay hydrated. Drink water before, during (not so much that it makes the exercise uncomfortable), and after exercising.
- Protect your skin with sunscreen, even on cloudy days. Use an oil-free, sweat-proof sunscreen with SPF-15 or higher. Sunglasses and a lightweight, breathable hat with a brim provide even more coverage from the sun.
- Wear loose-fitting, wicking fabrics. “Athletic” or “performance” apparel wick sweat from your body, allowing it to evaporate quickly off the clothes. Choosing lighter colors will reflect heat, keeping you even cooler.