Outdoor Fitness: 6 Great Ways to Get Fit Outdoors (cont.)

"I recommend finding a bike shop or a demo program where you can try a bike out," says Tonya Laffey, a professional mountain biker and founder of MTB Chick Racing. "I would highly recommend getting a fit kit, which measures you for the bike."

When you're getting started, you want a softer seat but not one that is too wide, or you won't be able to get behind it, Laffey tells WebMD. If you're a woman, try a women's racing saddle. It will be more comfortable but may take some time to get used to.

If your gym offers spinning classes, they can help you prepare for biking outdoors.

It's also a good idea to learn basic bike repair, Laffey says.

Equipment: You need a bike, a helmet, and gloves with a little palm padding, which will absorb vibration and cushion your hands in a spill.

Pros: Biking is fun, can be used as transportation, and works different muscles than walking or running.

Cons: Equipment can be expensive. Cycling isn't weight-bearing exercise (the type that helps build healthy bones), so you'll need to couple it with strength training or another form of weight-bearing activity for optimum fitness.

Swimming

Swimming is a wonderful cardiovascular conditioner that also helps tones arms and legs, and it's very easy on the joints, says Stuhr.

In fact, it's perfect for people who have muscle or joint problems. The weightlessness of the water helps them exercise pain-free.

Swimming will increase your stamina, can help ward off diabetes and high blood pressure, and relieves stress, Stuhr tells WebMD.

Equipment: A swimsuit and maybe goggles.

Pros: Most people already know how to swim; it's fun, refreshing, and forgiving of excess weight or physical disabilities.

Cons: Not everyone has easy access to pools, lakes, or the ocean. Swimming is not weight bearing, so you should pair it with other activities such as walking or lifting weights.

Hiking

Hiking uses a lot of up-and-down movement, so you get a tremendous leg workout along with the cardiovascular benefits.

Not only that, but hiking provides a relaxing atmosphere for a workout that doesn't seem like a workout at all. Listening to the birds and a babbling brook, and enjoying the cool breeze of the forest, provides a break from daily stresses, says Sheri McGregor, author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego.

Hiking is also a great sport to do along with a friend or mate. But it does require some preparation.

"A beginner should do a little research and find short hikes that offer good scenery without too much difficulty or special equipment," McGregor says.

Beginners should also be aware of potential dangers in their area. Snakes, mountain lions, biting flies, or bees can be an issue.

You'll also need to dress for quickly changing temperatures -- think layers. And be sure you know if water is available where you're heading. A good regional hiking book with area trails is a great investment.

More difficult hikes offer a sense of accomplishment. McGregor and her spouse do "extreme" hikes, requiring intense boulder scaling that engages the mind as well as the body. For extra adventure and challenge, you can backpack.

Equipment: You'll need a good pair of hiking boots, a backpack (to carry water and supplies), and possibly a walking stick.

Pros: Hiking is a great leg, ab, and butt workout, and it helps build cardio endurance. A 150-pound woman can burn 200-plus calories hiking 30 minutes.

Cons: Unless you live near hiking territory, this is generally a weekend-only activity. Try walking, jogging, or another activity for your weekday workouts.

Kayaking

Kayaking is primarily an upper-body sport, but it also works the muscles of the center of your body, back, and stomach.

In fact, "many beginner kayakers fatigue early because they rely mostly on their arms rather than their core," says Brian Clark, a kayaking enthusiast and residence life management area coordinator at Roanoke College in Salem, Va.

Beginners should start by taking a class or clinic in a pool or flat-water location.

"You'll learn how to roll the kayak, paddling technique, read the river and what to do for problems like getting pinned against rocks," says John Benson, director of the Sewanee Outing Program at Sewanee, the University of the South, in Tennessee.

To prepare your body for kayaking, pay attention to working out your shoulders, abs, and lower back. It's also important to work on your flexibility, Clark says. Pilates and yoga are helpful for this.

Equipment: A kayak, a helmet, a, personal flotation device, and safety gear such as throw ropes. A neoprene or wet suit is good to have in cooler weather.

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

Cons: Equipment is expensive, and you need training before you hit the water on your own. For most of us, this is a weekend-only activity.

Originally published April 8, 2005.
Updated March 2007.


SOURCES: Archives of Internal Medicine, October 25, 1999. Robin Stuhr, director, Women's Sports Medicine Center, New York's Hospital for Surgery, New York. Tonya Laffey, founder, MTB Chick Racing, Longmont, Colo. Sheri McGregor, author, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego. Brian Clark, residence life management area coordinator, Roanoke College, Salem, Va. John Benson, director, Sewanee Outing Program, Sewanee, the University of the South, Tennessee.

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