The World Is My Gym

by Lindy Zupko

Gyms are great, but they are not the be-all and end-all when it comes to working out. Let’s face it: They can be pricey, and many people find them a little intimidating. A great alternative (or complement) is to exercise outside, where you can build muscle tone, improve flexibility and eye-hand coordination, build stamina, and develop your cardio endurance—pretty much everything you could do indoors.

And the benefits start before you’ve even lifted a finger: Being outdoors has been proven to reduce stress, and sunshine itself helps the body naturally produce vitamin D, which is a boost for healthy bones.



What to Bring
If you plan to stretch or do floor exercises, don’t forget to bring a mat or a blanket. And since there might not be an easily accessible water fountain, a water bottle is a must. Sunscreen is also indispensable, no matter the season.

Don’t let colder weather stop you—exercising outside when the temperature drops is perfectly possible, and even enjoyable once the blood gets pumping. Just remember to layer, especially with moisture-wicking, breathable fabrics—cotton is not your friend when it’s cold.

A Focus on Cardio
Walking or running outside can be a game changer: Now you’re going places! Because the environment is less controlled than in a gym, exercising outside, and running in particular, can sharpen your coordination, balance, and focus. Trails and even pavement can be uneven, for example, so walking or running outside involves more adjustments than if you were on a treadmill. Always start by warming up with a power walk or light jog.

Make The Most of Natural and Man-made Features
If you leave near a beach, you have access to natural resistance: running or doing lunges on sand adds to the difficulty and will greatly improve your balance. Hills are also a bonus, and if you think going down is easier, think again: Battling gravity makes it more difficult to keep in control of your speed and balance. You can add to the challenge by increasing the number of times you go up and down. Whether it’s on a beach or a hill, watch your step, wear supportive shoes, warm outerwear, and be careful not to sprain an ankle.

Live near a nice lawn? Think of it as a natural mat. Nature also helpfully provides natural weights—we just call them rocks. (As always, remember to put everything back where you found it.) Doing pull-ups from tree branches is not recommended as the branch might not be as sturdy as you think it is.


Your Local Parks Are Full of Opportunities
Many public parks across the United States now feature dedicated fitness equipment, so go to your city’s parks and recreation website to find it. Dip bars are fairly common and can be used for rows, push-ups, and supported one-legged squats.

But you can also use items that were not specifically designed for fitness, which can provide an assist when toning: You can use a park bench to do dips, steps-ups, push-ups, and jumps—including power jumps if you feel comfortable.

As for playgrounds, they are very hospitable to fitness, as long as there aren’t children present—they get priority, of course. A jungle gym, for example, is perfect for hanging leg lifts or pull-ups. Bonus: Playgrounds often have a soft rubber floor. Always test the equipment first to make sure it’s stable.


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