6 Great Ways to Get Fit Outdoors

Experts share their favorite ways to shape up and have fun outside

By Jennifer Nelson
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

You've been indoors most of the winter, with just a treadmill for company. And then you hear it -- the siren call of warmer weather, calling you outside.

You'd be wise to heed that call. Pleasant temperatures and the visual interest of your surroundings can not only motivate you to exercise, but help you enjoy it more, experts say.

"And if you love doing an activity, you're more apt to do it regularly," says Robyn Stuhr, exercise physiologist and director of the Women's Sports Medicine Center at New York's Hospital for Special Surgery.

But what should you do once you get out of doors? Fitness experts who spoke to WebMD gave us their picks for some of the best (and most enjoyable) fitness activities out there: walking, jogging, biking, swimming, hiking, and kayaking.

Walking

You say walking's too pedestrian? Actually, it's one of the best lifetime sports.

"It's easy on the joints, you don't need a lot of fancy equipment, and you can burn calories, even though it's a more modest amount compared to some other activities," says Stuhr.

Current national guidelines recommend exercise (such as brisk walking) for 30 minutes, most days in a week.

According to the guidelines, walking for 30 minutes, 5 days a week, at a brisk pace (about 4 mph) will help ward off chronic disease.

"Your risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure go down as a response to just increasing your level of physical activity," says Stuhr.

Beyond that, if you're trying to lose weight, you should shoot for 60 minutes of walking most days of the week. To keep weight off, get 60-90 minutes of walking most days.

Sound daunting? The trick is to incorporate walking into your daily life and break the time into several manageable spurts. Consider walking the kids to school or the bus stop in the morning, hoofing it to pick up a bag of groceries or run errands at lunchtime, and walking the dog or taking a stroll after dinner each evening.

Equipment Needed: Good athletic shoes are all you need.

Pros: Walking is a weight-bearing exercise (which means it's good for bone health) and helps build cardiovascular endurance. Almost everyone can do it, regardless of fitness level.

Cons: You may not lose weight as quickly as with some other forms of cardiovascular exercise.

Jogging/Running

Jogging is terrific for your heart and lungs, and it improves your stamina. If you're trying to lose weight, it can burn calories more quickly than walking.

"On the negative side, running does put more stress on the joints -- the knees, ankles, and hips," says Stuhr.

The key is to start slowly. The general rule is to increase your time or distance by no more than 10% each week.

"The reason we make that suggestion is not because the heart and lungs can't handle it, but the joints and muscles are a little slower to adapt to the stress of vigorous exercise," Stuhr says. Too much too soon, and you can develop tendinitis or a variety of muscle or joint problems.

Equipment: It's important to get a good pair of running shoes, and, for women, a quality sports bra. Pay attention to the surface on which you run. Paths and grass are softer, but they're uneven and could have holes. Concrete is harder, but good shoes help absorb shock.

Pros: Running is an excellent cardiovascular exercise. A 150-pound woman can burn 306 calories running for 30 minutes at 5 mph (a 12-minute mile). A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 1999 found that aerobic exercise like running may be as effective as medication for treating depression in some people.

Cons: Running can be hard on muscles and joints and can cause injuries such as shin splints and tendinitis.

Cycling

Not only is bicycling an excellent cardiovascular exercise, but you can really explore your community by cycling to different neighborhoods or in parks, bike paths, or trails. Many people cycle to commute to work.


"If you love the water, kayaking is a fun and scenic way to work out."

While running tends to target the hamstrings (the muscles in the back of your thighs), cycling uses the quadriceps (the muscles on the front of the thighs) more.

It's important to make sure your bike is fitted properly to your body; otherwise, you'll put too much stress on your back or knees.