As we begin the new year, thoughts about "green" exercise should be at the top of our list. When we think of exercise, our first thought is probably not about the environment, it's focused on completing a workout. We think about how much we ate (especially during the holidays), and how we can work off the extra calories. Leaving the smallest exercise footprint doesn't usually cross our mind. Being environmentally conscious is more than just fewer driving trips, fewer fires in the fireplace, reusable bags, and solar heating. The amount of gas, electricity, and water needed to maintain a fitness facility can be astounding - investigate these eco-friendly alternatives instead.
Find Your Green Space
Green, or natural spaces, are considered advantageous for health and can actually lead to better health for everyone. Soak in the sights, sounds, cooler temperatures in the Fall & Spring and breathe in fresh air. Enjoy walking through freshly fallen snow and listen to the quiet as a reprieve from noisy, everyday life. Studies have shown that exercise helps with depression and anxiety, and exercising outside while enjoying nature can enhance the benefits.
For example, enjoy the outdoors with only the intention of a leisurely walk. Take the dog, or take a friend or loved one. Go at different times of the day. Find a yoga class in the park.There are many options to consider - make your outdoor exercise about connecting with someone and nature for a more gratifying experience.
Walk Outside - Everyday!
Did you know: "Inactivity causes 9% (range 5·1-12·5) of premature mortality, or more than 5·3 million of the 57 million deaths that occurred worldwide in 2008." Exercise clears the mind and allows for better concentration and better health. Simply walking outside every day provides many health benefits, and in the winter can help reduce Seasonal Affective Disorder. Walk or bike to run errands when possible. Hiking, biking, walking and running all require no energy beyond one's own physical energy. Many people want to live in walkable or bikeable communities - to find out what's available in your area, check with your local city planning department for areas that have built in bike and pedestrian paths.
Hiking is not only an enjoyable outside activity, but has the additional benefit of working the heart, the hip and leg muscles. Upper body muscles are worked when using hiking poles or climbing over rocks, and hiking also burns quite a lot of calories. Many hilly or mountainous locations have marked trails, each providing new surroundings and keeping the workout fresh. Ask your city parks and recreation department for maps of local trails. Often, yearly passes are available to save money when visiting National or State Parks, or hiking federally-maintained trails.
Benefits of Biking
According to Andy Clark, President of the League of American Bicyclists - the goal for bicycling is 25-30% of all daily trips. This not only would save a tremendous amount in auto pollution and at the gas pump, but would aid in keeping people healthier and more fit while substantially reducing our carbon footprint. Cycling is fast becoming a popular group exercise activity (many cities have a group ride known as Critical Mass) and burns a lot of calories on longer hilly rides, with the added perk of fresh outdoor air.
Find Your Favorite Place
Lucky enough to live within a 15-minute drive of myriad hiking trails in the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico, I can hike a different trail each day. I can walk the foothills or hike a mountain. My preference is to go with a friend, but sometimes I go by myself to soak in the beauty, flowers, scenery and be alone with my thoughts. Exercising with a friend acts as a sort of counseling session as we talk about our lives and offer each other advice. As I pass other exercisers out in this beautiful world I wonder if they are as happy as I am being outdoors - what's your outdoor exercise preference? Do you have a favorite spot?
Take a few minutes before you decide where you are going to exercise this year and be mindful of leaving the smallest footprint possible. Go outside and enjoy the view!
Mindy Caplan is an ACSM Certified Health Fitness Specialist, Certified Advanced Yoga Instructor, Certified ACE Fitness Personal Trainer, Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist, and Group Fitness Instructor, and has been in the fitness industry for over 30 years. She currently serves on several ACSM boards.
Her passion is teaching yoga in groups and individually, and when she isn't teaching she loves hiking the mountains of New Mexico, interior design, and planning her next yoga adventure.