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Embracing Cost-Effective Outdoor Workouts for Maintaining Good Health

Couple high fiving in workout gearAs the weather gets warmer in many parts of the country, it can be an opportune time to shift workouts from the gym or the studio to the great outdoors.Benefits of exercising outdoors include the built-in connection to nature, ability to make it into a social activity, and the fact that it is a low to no cost way to work out. Working out has so many physical and mental health benefits; coupling those with time in nature can help you elevate your routine and increase your motivation.

In fact, taking your exercise routine outdoors can help reinvigorate your senses and increase motivation levels. A change of scenery can help you explore undiscovered parts of your city and neighborhood. If you’re wondering how to get started with planning and preparing for your outdoor workout, read on.

Benefits of Outdoor Workouts

With the pandemic still going on, many people are still spending more time indoors than ever before. Others are working remotely and may have to juggle multiple responsibilities. When other tasks on the to-do list supersede exercise, it can lead to increased levels of physical inactivity. 

During this time, many people have also shifted their workouts from gyms and studios to their own homes and in their garages.​​ In fall 2021, a survey of 2,000 Americans showed that 72 percent feel that gyms will become a thing of the past due to the pandemic and the accessibility of at-home workouts (SWNS Digital, 2021). However, working out at home can get monotonous. For people who want to make the most of accessible workouts while also being budget-friendly, outdoor workouts are one way to accomplish both. 

Benefits of exercising outdoors include better mental health, increased levels of stress relief, exposure to cleaner air, and increased number of calories burned (Fitness Nation, 2020). Exercise itself has many benefits for physical, mental and spiritual health, which you can read more about here. When you introduce a new environment to the mix, it can keep your brain guessing and you may avoid “auto-pilot mode” that you may fall victim to if you are doing the same workout in the same environment on repeat.

Consider bringing along children, neighbors, and/or pets when working out, depending on what activity you have planned. Making it a recurring event can help everyone stay social, fit and motivated.

Preparing for Outdoor Workouts

In order to make the most of your outdoor workout, you will want to pack some essential items: water bottle, towel, sunglasses (for daytime workouts), a snack, sunscreen, headphones, and any gear you’ll need to work out such as pedometer or fitness watch, resistance bands and/or weights. If you have children, neighbors and/or pets with you, make sure to bring along enough water and snacks for them as well.

Staying hydrated is key when temperatures are high. Even if it is relatively cool in your area, you will want to replenish fluids lost while working out, which is why bringing along a cooler with cold water is a great way to ensure you have cold water on hand and readily available. To go along with this, having a portable snack or two on hand is also advisable. If you have children and/or pets with you, make sure to pack drinks and snacks for them too. If you have decided to make your outdoor activity more of a social one, make sure you have enough to pass out to those who are joining you.

Sunscreen is essential whenever you’ll be outside, especially in sunny areas. A common misconception is that even if it is overcast, you can’t get sunburnt, which is untrue. 

Headphones and a good playlist can help even the most challenging of workouts go by quickly. Try out preset playlists from music apps like Spotify or Apple Music, or make your own to suit your workout type and mood. If your workout of choice is a long walk or jog, listening to an audiobook or podcast is also a good option.

Other gear that will help you make the most of your workout include wearable tech such as fitness watches and rings, pedometers or other devices. After your session, you can track relevant biometric markers like heart rate, number of steps taken and miles walked or run, and calories burned. Tracking these metrics over time can help you improve running times or increase your endurance and stamina. 

Staying Safe and Other Concerns

City-dwellers are likely used to being vigilant about their surroundings, but staying aware is a good piece of advice for anyone who is exercising outside, especially if they are in a location in which they’ve never been before. 

Public parks are a great place to work out, but I recommend visiting the park (during daylight hours) before you plan to work out there, to see what it is like. You can also assess the space, crowdedness and level of distractions at the park before you decide to return at another time. By making workouts a social event, you can also maximize safety in numbers. 

Beyond safety, there can be other concerns. A study of women’s physical activities in an urban park in Brooklyn, New York found that the female participants were concerned about safety (traffic, hills, and wooded areas) as well as comfort (availability of restrooms and freedom to wear comfortable clothes). However, despite these concerns, they felt that the park served as a respite from the hustle and bustle of busy city life and restored feelings of calmness (Krenichyn, 2006). Other issues to be aware of can include insects. Protect yourself by wearing and reapplying bug spray or repellents as necessary. When you get home, check yourself for ticks if they are common in your area. More information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can be found here.

Group of young people working out outdoors

Cost-Effective Gear to Boost your Outdoor Workout

As mentioned above, technology such as watches and monitors can help you take your workouts to the next level. To boost the quality of your workouts and add some resistance, think about taking along items like hand-held weights, resistance bands and loops. They are mobile, relatively cheap and can be used in a variety of ways. For some ideas on how to use these items, click here. For a list of items that might be helpful to purchase to engage in outdoor workouts, click here.

Some parks have exercise equipment such as pull-up bars and stationary bicycles, which can be another cost-effective way to work out. If the park you are working out in does not have these items, you can get creative and use playground equipment to enhance your workout. You can use any flat surface, like the steps to get to the play area and slides, as a step-up area. You could also jump up and down to get your heart rate going. This exercise can help strengthen the muscles in your glutes and legs. Another idea is to use playground monkey bars to do pull-ups, or to use a stable park bench to do tricep dips. If you have access to swings, you have some options, such as inclined push-ups or ab tucks. For directions on how to do these exercises and others that can be done at a playground, click here.

If equipment is not for you, you still have options.

“Truthfully, the only thing [to get started working out outdoors] is–well, nothing, except for water, which you also need indoors,” said Jessica Rose, NASM-certified personal trainer and owner at Rose Gold Fitness in La Cañada-Flintridge, California. “So many exercises can be done with just body weight. In fact, we run an outdoor boot camp every morning and the majority of our exercises are body weight-based and incorporate whatever surroundings we find ourselves in.”

Outdoor Workout Ideas

Creating a plan for an outdoor workout should be easy and fun. Going to the gym or attending a fitness class is convenient and climate controlled, but when the weather is nice, exercising outside can be a welcome change.

To make outdoor workouts a more social activity, consider hosting a boot camp-style exercise event in a local park. By creating various circuit stations in which people can rotate, you’ll ensure a fun event that gets people’s heart rates up. You can do this with no equipment at all. For example, you can create one station devoted to sit-ups, one devoted to burpees, one devoted to planks, and so on. Having people work out in these stations in a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) manner is exciting and has many cardiovascular benefits.

If you have some equipment to use, you can easily design a station based on what you have brought, or what is around you. If you have attended a boot camp fitness class in the past, you can recreate this set-up. Using resistance bands or free weights, you can have one station for squats, one for glute bridges, one for box jumps (using a park bench, for example), and one for lateral walks using resistance bands. If you are relying on the equipment that is around you, you can use the tips from the section above to design multiple circuit stations.

Rose echoes these recommendations. 

“Railings and curbs can be used for elevated push-ups. Stairs can be used for just about anything. And we often use parking lot markings as parameters for shuffling or walking lunges, and more,” she said.

Full guidelines for designing a home workout that you can safely and easily bring outdoors, click here.

Refueling After your Workout

Refueling properly after a workout is crucial, since you’ve just burned quite a few calories and worked essential muscle groups. Great snacks that can be taken on the go include string cheese, granola bars, protein bars and shakes, and trail mix. 

“It’s always great to have something convenient you can toss in your bag when heading out for an outdoor workout. I’m a fan of packing fruits that don’t make a mess (like bananas, apples, blueberries, or dried fruit), high-protein, low-sugar granola bars, whole wheat crackers, or jerky. Single-serve nut butter packs also are a great way to add flavor and protein to a snack,” said Sarah Garone, NDTR. “Other smart snack options after any workout include foods that combine protein and carbohydrates. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, combining carbs and protein helps your muscles replenish the glycogen they’ve lost, as well as helps muscles rebuild and repair. Some suggestions for snacks that include both these macronutrients would be peanut butter on whole wheat crackers, Greek yogurt with berries, or a small turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread.”

Staying Hydrated

Staying hydrated is also important during the spring and summer, or any time during the year in which it is hot outside. Bringing an eco-friendly, refillable water bottle can help you keep track of your hydration, and having access to a water fountain can help you refill quickly. Not only can water help you stay hydrated, but it can also help flush out toxins, keep your pH levels stable, transport nutrients into cells and help you regulate your body temperature (Integrated Rehabilitation Services, 2019). However, some people do not like the taste of plain water and may find it challenging to drink enough to stay hydrated, especially after a strenuous workout outdoors. On average, experts recommend that women drink at least nine cups of water per day and men drink 12.5 cups of water per day (Savage, 2022).

Some strategies for combating this include infusing fruits into water, such as blueberries and cucumbers. The possibilities are endless. Fruits can also be frozen into an ice cube mold and added directly to water bottles. In addition, lemon or lime can also help make the taste of water more exciting and are relatively cost-effective. 

“When working out outdoors, it’s especially important to stay hydrated. I recommend drinking plenty of water during and after any outdoor exercise,” said Garone. “You can also rehydrate with food. Some foods with high water content include watermelon, citrus fruits, berries, and tomatoes.”

If you’re looking for something that is readily available at the grocery store, there are some products that can aid in hydration and recovery, including electrolyte drinks and drops. It’s important to steer clear of drinks and drops that contain too much sugar. Sugar from natural sources like fruits (fructose) are often better than added sugar. For example, some products may contain electrolytes, vitamins and minerals, and no added sugars or colors (Savage, 2022). Some products are premixed and ready-to-drink. For a full list of top-rated options evaluated by a dietitian, click here. Finally, it’s important to note that some products may also contain caffeine, so make sure you read the labels if that is not something you’d prefer to have in your drink.

Conclusion

If going to the gym, fitness class, or working out in your garage has felt a little stale, try taking things outdoors for a fresh perspective. Working out in the great outdoors can help you reconnect to nature, get some fresh air, strengthen your mind and  body connection, make your workout social, and make use of available parks, trails and other local areas. This approach can be cost-effective or even free. With a little preparation, you can take your outdoor workout to the next level by bringing along snacks and drinks to refuel, equipment to work out on the go, and wearable technology to help you keep track of your progress. 

“I think the most important thing is that you find a way to move or a place to move that will keep you moving and motivated. Whether that’s outdoors or indoors, you still need to do the work,” added Rose.

Author Bio: Nicki Karimpour, PHD

Contributor and Health Advisor 

Dr. Nicki Karimipour is a communications expert and experienced researcher. She obtained her master’s degree and Ph.D. in Health Communications from the University of Florida. She has previous experience in writing and editing for both print and online publications, and almost a decade of experience in teaching health writing, public health, and public relations at the undergraduate and graduate level. She is based in Los Angeles, California and currently works at the University of Southern California as a director of communications and clinical research. Follow her on Twitter: @NickiKPhD

References

SWNS Digital (2021). Staying at home made Americans realize they don’t need a gym membership to stay in shape, new research reveals. Retrieved from https://swnsdigital.com/us/2021/04/staying-at-home-made-americans-realize-they-dont-need-a-gym-membership-to-stay-in-shape-new-research-reveals/ 

Savage, E. (2022). The 7 best water flavorings of 2022, according to a dietician. https://www.verywellfit.com/top-flavorings-for-your-water-bottle-3435428 

Kreniychn, K. (2006). ‘The only place to go and be in the city’: Women talk about exercise, being outdoors, and the meaning of a large urban park. Health & Place, 12(4), 631-643. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1353829205000559 

Integrated Rehabilitation Services (2019). Importance of hydration for recovery and healing. https://integrehab.com/blog/athletic-training/hydration-recovery-healing/ 

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