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Summer: The Time to Take Exercise Outside

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

T-shirt and shorts weather makes for perfect conditions to take your exercise routine outside. Whether you’re gardening, running through your neighborhood, tossing a Frisbee in the park or playing volleyball in the sand, summer exercise can increase your cardiovascular health, bone strength and mood levels, as well as be a fun part of your day.

Warmer weather allows us to change many of our car-related activities to bike errands or walking sojourns. Take advantage of your nearby grocery store or farmers market by walking or biking. You will be less inclined to purchase unnecessary junk foods and more apt to select healthier, natural foods. The benefits of walking or biking not only extend to your body, but also to your mind. You have a chance to appreciate your surroundings in a way that you seldom would see from the windshield, and exercise has been proven to be one of the most beneficial preventative measures for mental health issues like depression, anxiety and even Alzheimer’s.

Try taking a yoga or weight-routine outside.  These stress reducing activities help to keep your blood pressure normal and prevent heart disease.  Also, the natural effect of sunshine can boost your mood through Vitamin D synthesis, which helps to increase levels of serotonin in the brain. Numerous studies have shown people suffering from depression, especially those living at latitudes of 35 and higher, tend to notice improvements in mood as their levels of Vitamin D naturally increase during the summer months.  The recommended daily intake of Vitamin D is 400 IU for adults and 600 IU for those age 71 and up.  Erica T. Goode, MD, MPH, a physician at the California Pacific Medical Center’s Health & Healing Center-Clinic in San Francisco, says that everyone should try to get at least 1,000 IU per day through a combination of diet, sun and supplementation.

In addition to increased mood levels, the vitamin D you get from the summer sun also helps to improve the strength of your bones.  A 2010 Surgeon General report shows that lack of exercise and deficiencies in both calcium and Vitamin D, especially in women, has subjected as many as 48 million Americans to osteoporosis.  Adding a few weight exercises can  improve bone health by slowing down the replacement of bone marrow by fat inside the bones.  In as little as 15 minutes a day, you can  increase your bone strength by trying these resistant band exercises at your local park or in your back yard.

Here are a few simple exercises you can take outdoors:

  • Squat Press: Using a resistance band, stand with your feet on the middle of the band a little further than hip distance apart.  With the handles in your hands at shoulder height, palms up, slowly squat down like you are sitting in a chair.  Once your knees are at 90 degrees slowly stand up and press the handles up over your head in one fluid motion.  Lower back down to the squat without pausing and repeat 10-15 times.
  • Rows: Wrap the resistance band around a pole at about shoulder height.  Step back from the pole until you feel some resistance on the band with arms fully extended in front of your body.  Pull the handles towards your body, palms facing in, keeping your elbows in towards your rib cage and always keeping resistance on the band. repeat 10-15 times with slow, smooth movements.
  • Chest Press: Keeping the resistance band and distance from the pole in the same place as the previous exercise, turn around and face away.  Start with your arms bent, elbows facing out, at shoulder height.  Push the handles straight out from your chest.  Always keeping resistance on the band,repeat 10-15 times with slow, smooth movements.
  • Calf Rises (no band needed):  Standing on the edge of a curb or step with one foot, lower the dangling foot to the ground. Straighten the supporting leg and come all the way up onto your toes before lowering the opposite foot again.  Repeat 10-15 times per leg in slow motion.

One important aspect of the above exercises is quality not speed.  Remember the longer you hold the resistance the more effective the exercise will be.  Don’t have a resistance band?  Use your natural body weight by flexing the target muscles.

Try to schedule your summer activities during the time when the sun is low in the sky. This is important, as exercising during peak sun hours, usually between about 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., can cause heat exhaustion, increase dehydration and even result in sun stroke.   Always be sure to drink plenty of water  and as an added treat, take some unsalted nuts as a high-protein, post workout snack..

However you choose to spend time outside during the warm summer months, be sure to have fun, stay hydrated and always look for new ways to naturally improve your life.

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