5 Fresh-Air Activities to Put a Spring in Your Fitness Plan

Winter overstayed its welcome this year. As the icy grip the cold weather held over our lives is finally relinquished, we can look forward to sunny summer days spent poolside and on the beach. But winter’s extended stay may have caused an extended waistline, too.

Forced to hunker down and stuck inside, you may be wanting to shed a few pounds that are just as overdue for departure as winter was. Even if that isn’t the case and you sweat it out in a crowded gym, it is time to take that fitness outdoors. No matter what your goals are, it is time to get up, get moving, and enjoy the sunshine. Here are five ways to get active this spring.

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/

1. Get in the (garden) game

It’s time to get your hands and knees dirty, because with the last of the freezes gone from the forecast, it is finally time to start planting your garden. Fitness most likely isn’t the reason most gardeners start out, but it is a factor worth considering. Getting your garden ready can force you to do some seriously heavy lifting. Clearing away debris, digging, hauling dirt, mulching, and planting will have you moving and working your muscles. Plus, a garden requires sustained attention — flower beds need to be weeded, and hedges clipped.

This isn’t the kind workout that will torch a lot of calories, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. ”It’s not just exercise for exercise itself, which can become tedious,” Katherine Brown, the executive director of the Southside Community Land Trust, said in an interview with CNN. ”It’s exercise that has a context, that reinforces the limberness of your limbs and the use of your hands. You’ve got a motivation for why you want to grip. You’re not just gripping a ball, you want to pull a weed.”

For anyone who has the space, gardening could improve the health of their kitchen table, too. To eat the crispest vegetables possible or to season a dish with some seriously fresh herbs, grow your own!

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

2. Join a local pick-up league

Did you dabble in dribbling soccer balls in high school, or swing at softballs? Well, dust off the cleats and take aim, because it is time to see who else in your local community has a just-for-fun sports league. They may keep score, they may not, but joining in is a sneaky way to get your exercise in.

Pick something that you love or have always wanted to try and then Google away. Check listings on local websites or with the local paper. If you’re a bit more advanced than just looking for a pick-up game, you can join an actual league. But don’t think you’re only limited to soccer, softball, and basketball. Local parks have volleyball nets just waiting to be used, as well as tennis courts begging for action. Don’t see what you want listed? There is nothing stopping you from organizing your own league or group. Post an ad, send a message, or talk with friends to see who else is interested in a weekly golf outing or game of basketball after work.

A United Nations report on sport and health singled out sports as a unique tool for fostering community participation and getting people to take control of their health. Inactivity, the report says, is a leading cause of chronic disease. Increasing activity levels elevates overall fitness levels and can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or becoming obese. The benefits aren’t purely physical, either. Participating in sports forges bonds, creating a sense of belonging and empowerment. Healthy behaviors are promoted and reinforced as people follow the positive patterns being set by others, continuously making better choices for themselves.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

3. Start your spring training

Spring training isn’t only for baseball players, so lace up your sneakers and hit the road running, jogging, or walking — whichever works best for you. Know your fitness level going in and start small. ”The first two weeks are difficult,” Julie Isphording, a running coach, told WebMD. ”Getting out the door is the hardest thing ever. Once you get past that, then you get it, your body starts feeling good and wants to go out and play.”

One way to make sure you keep yourself on track is to sign up for a race. Running in the USA has a page where you can filter your search by race length, location, and date. Runner’s World has a similar feature, and Find a Race lists searches by state. With this incentive, you’ll have even more motivation to get out the door several days a week. Having goals is important, but so is being realistic. If the last time you ran was three years ago, next month’s half marathon is probably a bit beyond your reach.

When you start out, focus not on your distance traveled but time spent running, Isphording advised. You’ll also want to be sure you can pass the “talk test.” Your jog, run, or walk shouldn’t be so difficult that you couldn’t carry on a conversation while keeping pace. Find a way to stay hydrated, too. Map out your route ahead of time so you can stop at a local gas station, or store water somewhere safe along the way.

Source: Thinkstock

4. Take your routine outside

There is nothing wrong with an at-home workout, especially if it’s a routine you have come to love. But with the days getting longer and temperatures rising, it is time to do those sun salutations where you can feel the sun’s rays. With the sunshine will come a little dose of much-needed vitamin D.

The Harvard School of Public Health says that anyone who isn’t getting at least 15 minutes in the sun is running the risk of vitamin D deficiency. In industrialized countries, doctors are reporting a rise in the case of rickets, a largely eradicated disease that causes bones to weaken. Not having enough vitamin D in the bloodstream can also increase the risk of developing other health complications, like heart disease.

Robert Gotlin, director of Orthopedic and Sports Rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, said to Women’s Health that taking your workout outside can positively influence your frame of mind, too. ”Breathing fresh air opposed to the recycled kind can create a feeling of euphoria, which comes from the body’s release of feel-good endorphins,” Gotlin said.  ”It’s not that your muscles respond better to it, but rather your mind does, which in turn makes you want to work harder.”

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

5. Start cycling

Spin classes are trendy, but go back to basics this spring with an old-fashioned bike ride. ”Cycling puts very little impact on your joints, so it’s kind to your body,” Andrew Pruitt, director of Boulder Center for Sports Medicine in Colorado, said to Prevention“Even if you have pain walking, you can still ride a bike, because it isn’t weight bearing.” As far as getting back into shape goes, biking is boost there, too. Pruitt said that since you can cycle further than you can walk, your confidence increases from the get-go, making it an activity you are more likely to stick with in the long run.

Not only are you likely to keep up your cycling habits, but you’ll be amazed at what you can see. Since you can travel farther with two wheels than with two feet, a new world is at the treads of your tires. You can head out from home and see what you can discover around where you live, or load the bikes up in the car and hit a nearby trail.

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