There’s something about exercising outdoors that just makes you feel good. And it’s even better when the weather is nice and you’re surrounded by nature’s beauty, rather than being confined by the walls and noises of the gym.
But exercising outdoors doesn’t mean you have to be a long-distance runner. There are many benefits to simply just walking or power walking – and they’re similar to the benefits you’d get from running. Plus, as we’ll discuss, there are many exercises you can do inside the gym to make your outdoor workouts even better.
Come on, ladies – we are in the heart of summer. So let’s get ready to take our workouts outdoors!
Leisurely Stroll Versus Power Walk
A study in the British Medical Journal found there are more health benefits associated with a daily power walk than a leisurely stroll, even if the stroll lasts longer. The great thing about this study is that it followed participants for 10 years, and a longer study period often yields more accurate results than a study that only lasts a few months.
During that 10-year period, researchers followed 10,135 men and women aged 21 to 98. The more active participants, and those who walked or jogged faster, had a lower risk of developing the metabolic syndrome (a combination of risk factors that together increase risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes). Interestingly, a high volume of walking did not lessen the risk. The researchers concluded that intensity, rather than volume, is important when it comes to physical activity. In fact, the researchers concluded that light physical activity, even if it amounted to more than one hour of walking a day, did not protect against the metabolic syndrome.
Running Versus Walking
Interestingly, another study found that brisk walking is just as good as running for preventing diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol. However, in order to reap the benefits one would get from running, the same distance must be covered when walking, and the same amount of calories expended, the study concluded.
This study focused on 33,060 participants in the National Runners’ Health Study II and 15,945 walkers in the National Walkers’ Health Study. The study participants were between 18 and 80 years old. The purpose was to assess energy output by distance, rather than time spent exercising. Walking was just as effective, but only when the same number of calories was burned, which took the walkers more time. When duration, rather than distance, was the measuring factor, running was more beneficial. And over the six years of the study, the researchers found that moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running results in similar benefits, including reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and possibly coronary heart disease.
“The more the runners ran and the walkers walked, the better off they were in health benefits. If the amount of energy expended was the same between the two groups, then the health benefits were comparable,” Paul T. Williams, Ph.D., the study’s principal said, according to ScienceDaily.
When they compared energy expenditure to self-reported, physician-diagnosed incident hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes and coronary heart disease, the researchers found the following:
• First-time hypertension: running reduced risk 4.2%, walking 7.2%
• First-time high cholesterol: running reduced risk 4.3%, walking 7%
• First-time diabetes: running reduced risk 12.1%, walking 12.3%
• Coronary heart disease: running reduced risk 4.5%, walking 9.3%
The study shows that while people are always looking for an excuse not to exercise, the fact of the matter is that both running and walking are investments in your health, Dr. Williams told ScienceDaily.
There is an important take-home message here: kick up the intensity whenever possible. Yes, that sounds like an obvious observation but here’s another thing we can learn from these studies – if you aren’t running, then brisk walking may just be the next best thing, since brisk walking has immense health benefits that are comparable to running.
Take It Outside!
Erin Desharnais is an expert personal trainer who loves the outdoors. Erin, who says “Mother nature is my favorite home girl” grew up in a very active family, one that was always outside climbing trees, exploring, hiking, camping, running, swimming and playing sports.
“I have always had a passion for fitness,” said Erin. “I love everything about it – the sweat, building relationships, helping people be better wives/husbands, the determination, courage, confidence building, camaraderie. And I believe active people are happier. I have learned that the best version of ourselves lives well beyond our comfort zones.”
Erin teamed up with YExplore, a leading adventure tour company within Yosemite National Park, to offer an outdoor fitness program that promises to boost energy and prepare you for the mountains in life, whether that be in Yosemite or meeting fitness goals. Erin agrees that when it comes to exercising outdoors – whether through hiking, walking, running and trekking – there’s much more to it than just physical benefits. “I think being outside brings out the child that lives inside all of us. It allows us to ‘unplug to plug in’ and be connected to our surroundings and more importantly ourselves,” Erin said.
She also believes that running and hiking offer the same level of health benefits. “Hiking on trails is a low-impact way to get in aerobic exercise that won’t put heavy stress on joints,” Erin said. “It might not be apparent in the moment, but the constant change in elevations and terrain works great for building cardiovascular health, overall strength and mental toughness. You can also do trail running, intervals or carry a weighted pack to make it more challenging. Also, being outside just feels great!”
When it comes to hiking and walking, Erin says it’s all about having fun, challenging yourself, and taking time to go solo and listen to nature, or bond with your family. “Walking and hiking get people, friends, families and communities moving and creating momentum!”
Train Inside to Perform Better Outside
Erin also says that training inside the gym can help maximize your performance in hiking and walking outside. It’s about training your body and mind to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, as this will drastically benefit you in the activities you love to do outside the gym, said Erin.
“Most people fail to maximize their life experience because they don’t understand the key role that wellness plays on the potency of their creative endeavors, the depth of their social interactions, the effectiveness of their business decisions and, most importantly, developing a deeply grounded connection with themselves,” Erin said. “Building strength in your smaller intrinsic muscles will keep your body balanced to prevent muscle imbalances and injury. You need to challenge your body in different ways, overload it so it keeps gaining strength and power and so you don’t get bored. A properly designed strength program will keep you strong in all other areas of your life.”
For an outdoor enthusiast, the best workout program involves strength training, interval training, power endurance and outdoor endurance training. The goal is stronger and longer. Developing the ability to stay strong for extended periods can be quite a mental task, just as physical ability and stamina are.
Here is Erin’s recommendation for a well-rounded fitness program that includes hiking and running:
Monday: Strength train or rest day (usually a good day for people to recover)
Tuesday: Hike, run or walk
Wednesday: Strength train with intervals
Thursday: Hike, run, walk or yoga
Friday: Strength train
Saturday/Sunday: People usually have more time on the weekend, so pick one of the days to go for a long hike
Power Endurance Workout
Here’s Erin’s example of a power endurance workout that can help you perform better outside. Repeat the following five exercises as many times as possible in 20 minutes:
Jump Squats x 10
Pull-ups x 10
Bar Front Squats x 10
Walk-out Push-Ups x 10
Jump Rope x 150
Treadmill Interval Workout
0-3 minutes warm-up with a light jog
3-4 minutes 85-90% sprint
4-5 minutes walk
You can keep repeating this cycle or alternate between sprinting and adding in an incline; there are so many options.
Adam, Steven. “Daily ‘power walk’ can halve heart attack risk.” The Telegraph 8 Oct 2012. Web May 2013.
American Heart Association (2013, April 4). Walking can lower risk of heart-related conditions as much as running. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 10, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2013/04/130404170225.htm
If you are looking for some adventure this summer, here are just a few of the top hiking destinations, as suggested by National Geographic and U.S. News & World Report.
Yosemite National Park – California
As we mentioned, the YExplore program, founded by John DeGrazio, is a great way to explore Yosemite. In the park you can take a guided tour or explore on your own.
Yellowstone National Park – Wyoming
The home of Old Faithful spans over two million acres, with more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails. The spring months offer the best hiking conditions and mild weather.
Banff National Park – Alberta, Canada
Situated in the beautiful Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park has more than 80 hiking trails and there’s also skiing in the winter.
Acadia National Park – Maine
At Acadia, hikers enjoy the many rugged wilderness paths to choose from in the park’s 47,000 acres. Here you can spot harbor seals sunning themselves on rocks, rocky crag-filled trails, and more.
Grand Canyon Hike – Arizona
There are many scenic hikes in the Grand Canyon, but in this one you’ll see both rims and the river, and there are different trails in and out. At 44 miles, this hike takes about four to six days to complete.
Chilkoot Trail – Alaska and Yukon Territory, U.S. and Canada
This is another long hike, totaling 33 miles and taking three to five days to complete. This one is perfect for history buffs; in 1898 gold miners took to this route in hopes of making it rich. In fact, along the sides of the trail you’ll find rusted remains of miners’ equipment.