Parks, playgrounds offer fresh air alternatives to gym workouts

NEW YORK Mon Aug 18, 2014 5:02am EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - From park bench pushups and monkey bar lifts to open air runs, fitness experts say the workout possibilities of playgrounds and parks are worth the consideration of even the most diehard gym users.

During the warm, waning summer days, fresh air workouts offer a wealth of new ways to boost the mood, channel the inner child and even burn extra calories.

Chris Freytag, a personal trainer and health coach with the American Council on Exercise, loves the gym but lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a city notorious for brutal winters.

“I’m a big believer in change of venue, of getting away from the same treadmill, the same spot. And there’s something about fresh air and moving in space,” said Freytag, who leads boot camp and circuit classes in parks and parking lots during the summer months.

The changing terrain can also inspire the solitary exerciser to mix it up.

“I’m all about hills: every time you see a hill or steps or stairs, lunge at it,” said Freytag. “Step up and down on curbs and park benches.”

A child’s playground offers core-strengthening possibilities from deep plank pushups, with feet placed on swings, to training with resistance bands slung around poles, to monkey bar pull-ups, she explained.

Research suggest the outdoor boost can be mental as well as physical. In a 2014 study on indoor versus outdoor activity published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being researchers analyzed national survey data from Finland.

They found that nature provides an added value to the known benefits of physical activity and repeated exercise in nature is, in particular, connected to better emotional well-being.

In his book “Beat the Gym,” Connecticut-based running coach and personal trainer Tom Holland said running on a treadmill is slightly easier than running on the ground.

“You don’t have to deal with changing terrain, wind resistance,” he said, adding that the zero incline on most treadmills is actually slightly downhill.

New York City-based personal trainer JR Allen, said the first benefit of the outdoor workout is balance.

“You have to be aware of your surroundings because you could step in a pothole,” Allen said. “It is a less safe, more uncontrolled environment that is more of a strain on your body.”

Allen suggests the newcomer to outdoor exercise should start with a simple walk around the neighborhood. The seasoned exerciser should head to the park for sprints, power push ups, in which hands leave the ground, and walking planks, moving side to side and back to back on hands and feet.

Daniel Taylor, author of the book “Conditioning to the Core,” thinks outdoor training is great as long as people take some precautions.

“People who utilize children’s playground equipment ought to double check it. Make sure bars aren’t slippery,“ he said. “One of the reasons we go to the gym is it’s safe and dry.”

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Andrew Hay)

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