Take It Outside

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Last weekend, I finally went for a mountain-bike ride outside. Big deal, I’m sure many of you have been skiing, hiking, running, and even biking throughout the winter, but for me it felt like the official kick-off to spring. My hour-long loop on pavement, trail, and double-track went by in a flash, and, duh, I was reminded of why exercising outdoors is so much more enjoyable than grinding away inside on a bike trainer or treadmill.

This morning, I was reading fitness -guru Lou Schuler’s blog (he and I were colleagues 10 years ago at a men’s fitness magazine), and wouldn’t you know it, he had a link to a London Telegraph story on the benefits of exercising outside vs. the gym. Among the points made:

- Exercising outdoors burns more calories than equivalent activities in a gym, especially if it’s cool outside as the “the body can use up to 50 percent more calories to keep warm.”

- Going outside supplies you with “15 minutes of sunshine necessary to get your recommended dose of Vitamin D.”

- “Studies show that negative ions in fresh air generate increased alertness and elevate your mood.” – Never heard about that one about negative ions, but I will buy the fact that I enjoy increased alertness and elevation in mood—except if it’s raining. I’ve never enjoyed doing anything in the rain.

If there’s one downside I experience when I start to ride and run outside in the spring is that it feels like cheating. After a winter spent mostly indoors, my twisted mind figures I’m not working hard enough if there’s no pool of sweat growing underneath my heaving body and my clothes aren’t stinking like a boxing ring. Thing is, I know I worked just as hard during this mountain-bike ride as I did on bike trainer session earlier in the week (I was wearing a heart-rate monitor both times). But it certainly didn’t feel like it. On my mtb-ride, the perspiration evaporated instantly in the cold air; dealing with the changing terrain kept my body from growing stiff, and watching a snowstorm blow down off Pikes Peak kept my mind off the screams emanating from my hard-working thighs.

This experience got me to wondering what my fitness would be like if I hadn’t spent so much time over the last two months indoors, i.e., if training outside now feels easy, how much harder would I have pushed myself if I had completed more workouts in fresh, if freezing, air. But then again, does it really matter? I want to be super-fit come Memorial Day, not by Easter. In the grand scheme of things, being strong in March is not the goal, so perhaps training indoors with its higher perceived exertion is okay. It kept me from overtraining and made me relish my time outdoors instead of dread it like I would if this was January and it was 12-degrees and snowing. –Grant Davis

Grant Davis has spent the last decade writing and editing articles about health, fitness, and nutrition. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He attributes his aversion to exercising in sub-freezing weather to his childhood in SoCal.