If lockdowns had any positives (other than reducing the spread of the C word), it’s that they eliminated any embarrassment about public workouts.
The parks and ovals of Australia were dotted with individuals squinting at their phones as they were shouted at by YouTube fitness instructors ordering them to do 10 burpees, humiliation be damned.
And as Sydney and Melbourne’s lockdowns dragged on, the allotted hour of outdoor time became a precious commodity that fostered an appreciation of the outdoors.
The silver lining
Melbourne strength and conditioning coach Mahara Feala says she’s seen that appreciation continue post-lockdowns.
“The one thing I’ve taken away as a positive from lockdowns is people’s effort to put more exercise into their daily routine, because we were really tested, and that was a way to channel that energy into something positive. Seeing people continue that on after lockdowns has been really cool to see,” she says.
Mahara incorporates outdoor training into her own strength and fitness regimen, as well as encouraging it in her clients for its range of benefits.
The vitamin in the sky
“The first one is vitamin D exposure. Being able to spend time in the sun – obviously appropriately – helps with the absorption of calcium in our bodies, and that maintains our bone and teeth strength, so that’s a massive one,” she says.
“For the most part being outside for even 30 minutes we’re getting our vitamin D for the day. You don’t have to be out there sunbathing in your bikini.”
Another benefit is the well-documented stress reducing properties of the great outdoors.
A 2010 study in the Environmental Science and Technology Journal found that just five minutes of walking outdoor in green space could improve your mood, with the impact even greater if it was within sight of water.
Added to that, there are some surprising extra physical benefits of outdoor training.
The bonus stuff
Wind resistance increases the calorie burning of cycling by 10 per cent, according to a study by the Harvard Medical School. And a Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity study found that runners did an extra half-hour of exercise if they ran outside rather than on a treadmill, with the fact running outside is less boring attributed as the reason.
The complexity of outdoor pathways, with obstacles like tree roots and rocks, also makes for a more mentally challenging exercise session.
And if COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s about the importance of ventilation.
“Exercising outside means reducing the amount of time we’re spending cooped up inside, breathing in the same air as everyone else, so reducing our likeliness of getting sick and getting bugs,” Mahara points out.
“And, of course, our physical wellbeing, whether you’re walking, running, playing sport or playing with the kids, it can help with weight maintenance.”
Mix and match
While simply going for a walk or jog can reap many benefits, Mahara recommends incorporating body weight exercises to make for a well-rounded work out.
“I’ve noticed a lot more outside equipment’s being installed, and they show you what to do and tell you what muscles you’re working, which is really cool. If someone is stuck for ideas there will be some sort of equipment around which is super handy,” she says.
But even if there isn’t any installed near you, there’s plenty of exercise options that can be done with none or playground equipment.
“Run or walk for five or 10 minutes and then do some reps of an exercise, so you can mix up your strength and cardio,” Mahara says.
Her favourite outdoor exercises are:
- Pull-ups on monkey bars, if you have access to a playground. Bring an exercise band for assistance if you can’t do a full pull-up without one.
- Body weight squats
- Plank, for as long as you can while maintaining form
- Glute bridge
SUMMARY: WHY YOU SHOULD EXERCISE OUTSIDE
- Vitamin D exposure
- Improved stress and mental health reliever
- Burns more calories than gym equivalents
- More mentally challenging