May 5, 2011 | by Kevin M. Norris
Outside the box

Fitness ruts hit most of us at some point and sometimes the gym is the problem.

Fifty-eight million Americans are obese and many are intimidated to be in a formal exercise setting. Also, with summer just around the corner, being outdoors is more and more desirable and is often a preferred option to the confines of a gym space. And indeed the outdoors is a healthy space to be – it’s certainly environmentally better for you and may nourish your soul and mental well being.

What’s more, gyms can be beyond many people’s budgets and location might be an issue, but there are alternatives.  I know many people who rarely step inside a gym; in fact there is a whole population of people who only use the gym as a backup on bad weather days. Exercise can come in many shapes and forms and there are boundless options outside the gym.

The variety of outdoor activity challenges the body in ways that generally don’t occur in gyms. Tina Vindum, author of “Outdoor Fitness,” says, “Compared to machines and a flat gym floor, the outdoors challenges your muscles in every way — climbing up, down, laterally, and diagonally; moving you forward, backward, squatting, lunging, rotating on every imaginable surface — grass, dirt, sand, gravel, pavement, snow, etc., and working in all planes of motion.”

And beyond the obvious physical, your exercise setting can provide a psychological boost as well. According to a survey in the December 2009 issue of “Science Direct,” “Outdoor (exercise) settings were rated as more restorative.” Nature has a wonderful way of stimulating our senses. If you are bored with your routine, maybe it’s time to think outside the gym box and get outside to a world of fun and varied routines.

There are the obvious choices of running, cycling and swimming and of course there is tennis, basketball, kayaking, hiking and in-line skating.

No need to stop there. In September, I wrote about the benefits of boot camp, an effective alternative that just about every gym has in the form of an outside option with personal trainers running their own classes. The great thing about boot camp is not only that you are exercising all your major muscle groups including your heart and lungs, but also stimulating your senses from the often beautiful setting you are exposed to. Some gyms offer other outdoor exercise classes such as Yoga. Ask your local gym and look for postings in coffee shops and in neighboring parks.

Amateur sports leagues are another fun reprieve from stereotypical exercise. From softball and dodge ball to kickball and soccer, there are multitudes of sports league that are fun and can essentially bring you back to your youth and make you more youthful. This is also a great way to meet and bond with others and a team sport generally has you committed to a whole season of exercise and physical activity. Some leagues can be sports specific and only target specific muscle groups of your body more than another, so variety is important here as well.

What about a succession and variety of outdoor adventures? Whitewater rafting anyone? And how about paddle boating, flying trapeze lessons, horseback riding or a ropes course? There are even more options than you think and some of them are so fun, they are disguised as exercise and have the exercise effect without the activity qualifying as exercise.

And not only are they physically stimulating, but they provoke the senses while making your heart pound and spirit soar and many of these will often get you outside your comfort zone and, as “Conversations With God” author Neale Donald Walsch says, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

The Jefferson Memorial made paddle boating famous in this area and can be accentuated with a healthful picnic lunch while taking in the sites. Details at tidlebasinpeddleboats.com.

Flying trapeze lessons? No kidding — I have eight months of lessons to prove it. While perhaps not for the faint of heart, prior skill is not required. With the expert instruction, secure cables and net below, you will be flying through the air with the greatest of ease before you know it. Even if you don’t feel like you have the upper body strength, the cables assist you where you need it.  Overall, flying trapeze is great for your core, back and shoulders and it’s a blast. Details at washingtondc.trapezeschool.com.

Not sure how to go about joining a league or team – Team D.C. (teamdc.org) lists just about every LGBT sports and adventure group in the area.

Another great source is the social networking site Meetup (meetup.com). There are meet up social groups for just about every imaginable activity and it is free to join. And if you can’t find one to your liking, you can create your own for a small monthly fee.

For other off-the-beaten path adventures like sky diving and whitewater rafting, contact me at kevinmnorris@aol.com.

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