Have you been inside a gym lately? Maybe you’ve found it a bit busier than usual, full of people working on their New Year’s resolutions.
If you’re looking to keep an exercise-related resolution, I encourage you to leave the gym and do something a little different – head outdoors! You won’t even have to go that far; here in the GTHA we are lucky to be close to Ontario’s Greenbelt, a fantastic site for many winter sports.
I know we are now deep in the throes of winter – the ground outside has spent the last several months rotating between snowy, icy, slushy and muddy. The sun comes up late and the thermometer stays low.
Given this reality, many people head inside for their fitness buzz.
However, exercising outdoors can have significant benefits.
Lots of conservation areas in and around the Greenbelt have winter trails and offer snowshoe rentals as well.
First, the activities you can do outdoors at this time of year often use muscles and joints differently than the exercise you would do at the gym – a snowy hike, a snowshoe run or a few hours spent cross-country skiing is not the same for your body as using an elliptical machine, treadmill or stationary bicycle.
As a highly experienced Triathlon coach, I always encourage my clients to take advantage of these outdoor activities to create a new stimulus on the body to help increase their overall fitness. The use of different joints and muscles can also provide a break to the parts of your body that are stressed by your regular exercise routine. In short – after an exercise session outdoors you might find yourself sore in unexpected places!
Another reason to head outside to exercise is that it has been found to be better for your mental health than exercise indoors. You could come back from your jaunt in the woods more fit and less stressed than if you had gone to the gym.
A final reason to exercise outdoors is that it will help you see the positive in the season – a snow-covered forest is a beautiful place to observe and explore. Who knows, maybe when spring rolls around this year you’ll be thinking fondly about your snowshoeing trips and eagerly anticipating the next winter!
So, head out to the Greenbelt this weekend for a fantastic alternative to the gym. Some of my favorite places in the Greenbelt include Albion Hills Conservation Area, for cross country skiing and fat biking (winter mountain biking) and Forks of the Credit Park where you can do some gentle snowshoeing or winter hiking. Or head to http://www.greenbelt.ca/explore#/ to find the Greenbelt park or trail near you!
Showshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular activities in the winter at Forks of the Credit Park. This Conservation Area also boasts amazing views that can be found while out on your winter hike.
Bowler, D. E., Buyung-Ali, L. M., Knight, T. M., & Pullin, A. S. (2010). A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environments. BMC Public Health,10(1). doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-456