Get Outside!

Photo: iStockphoto.com/hockeymom4
Feel better and stay healthier with outdoor activities.

The nature of fitness is changing – there’s more nature in it! Sixty percent of personal trainers and a growing number of gyms in the United States and Canada now hold activities and classes outside, according to a 2007 survey by IDEA Health & Fitness Association. It’s no surprise that more exercise enthusiasts are venturing outdoors, as a growing body of research is extolling the mental and physical benefits of alfresco activity.

Exercising outdoors with your family is a great opportunity to have fun and build stronger relationships, while simultaneously improving your health and well-being. Outdoor activity increases fitness levels, an important strategy in helping the one in four Canadians who are obese to get fit. A 2011 study by the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry has confirmed that exercising in the natural environment is linked to greater feelings of revitalization and increased energy, and decreased confusion, tension, anger and depression.

Today’s families have become more plugged in and less connected to the natural world. The average Canadian spends 90 percent of his or her time indoors, and it is estimated that three million of us have an inadequate amount of vitamin D, which the body generates in response to sun exposure (that’s why it’s known as the “sunshine vitamin”). Studies show vitamin D may have a protective effect against osteoporosis, certain forms of cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Exercising outdoors also allows us to benefit from trees’ natural ability to filter and assimilate harmful waste. A report published by Trees Ontario suggests our health is inextricably linked to the health of our trees and forests. The report highlights benefits such as a decreased incidence of asthma in children and a decline in stress levels. (Great reasons to support Trees Ontario’s fantastic reforestation efforts!)

Engaging in outdoor activities is also integral to the health of our environment. People who participate in nature activities in their youth are more likely to have pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours as adults. Spending time outdoors allows people to connect with nature, and increases a sense of ownership and responsibility to our surroundings. After all, kids don’t develop a true relationship with nature by watching it on the nature channel. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe how a lack of exposure to nature affects today’s plugged-in generation. He links this deficit with rising trends in problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression. And he has one simple solution – get outside!

Getting outside is easy with Canada’s abundance of natural spaces and the growing number of companies dedicated to outdoor fitness. Thanks to organizations like Parks Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, parks and natural spaces are protected for us and future generations to appreciate, enjoy and learn from. Canada’s National Parks provide opportunities to escape from our hectic modern lifestyle and restore our balance. Find a park near you and discover hundreds of trails to explore, and many other activities. If you don’t live near a national park, check out a provincial park, municipal park or conservation area.

Many companies, such as Toronto-based Nature Fitness, offer personal training in an outdoor setting. Outdoor Fitness provides year-round outdoor classes taught by instructors in over 100 parks across Eastern Canada. Some parks are adding outdoor fitness equipment. Green Gym Outdoor Fitness Equipment is available in more than 150 parks across North America, offering you the opportunity to achieve your fitness goals outside. Outdoor exercise is rapidly gaining devotees, and thanks to websites like Meetup and Kijiji, finding workout buddies and groups has never been easier.

More and more research is showing the profound benefits of spending time outdoors, so what are you waiting for? Get outside and get connected with both nature and your family!