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KAREN VOIGHT

'Outdoor Gym' Offers a Natural Workout for Fitness Enthusiasts

August 21, 2000|KAREN VOIGHT

Need to get in shape? You couldn't have picked a better time--summer--to set some attainable fitness goals. With the days lasting longer, you can break your in-the-office doldrums for some outdoor activities in the evenings and on weekends.

Tennis, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and beach volleyball are just a few of the options available to exercise enthusiasts during the warm summer months. What's more, the great outdoors can be a makeshift gym, calling you to do everything from push-ups to squats underneath the sun or the stars. Whether you live in Maui or Manhattan, your outdoor environment provides you with a ready-made fitness center.

Skeptical? Ask Tina Vindum, the founder of Outdoor Action Fitness, a 5-year-old Mill Valley, Calif., company that has attracted hundreds of exercise buffs who can't get motivated to sweat inside. Vindum's fitness students, most from the San Francisco area, run up and down wooded trails, do push-ups on logs and leg raises on upright trees. They jog on beaches, work with dumbbells on hills and brave the weather, rain or shine.

"There's no such thing as inappropriate weather," Vindum says, "only inappropriate clothing."

Being outdoors rejuvenates your mind, body and spirit. It also increases your intake of negative ions, which are needed to ward off allergens and increase your serotonin levels. Low levels of serotonin--not uncommon during the winter months--can cause depression. During the last two decades, research has shown that some people become depressed when negative ion counts are low, while high negative ion exposure--what you get at the beach--can make you feel better and more energized. In other words, you need to get outside--and breathe in fresh air, hear the waves on the beach and feel the wind and sun on your face.

Fitness centers also are realizing that people want to enjoy the outdoors. According to a survey by the San Diego-based International Organization of Fitness Professionals, outdoor group activities at fitness facilities have increased by about 17% during the last four years. Many clubs offer walking classes so members can get outside after a day in the office. Or, they offer outdoor mind/body classes, such as tai chi and Pilates. While jogging on the beach in Marina del Rey, I've seen yoga classes being taught on the water's edge.

Outdoor fitness adds a different perspective to your exercise by giving your mind a workout too--by avoiding natural obstacles, varying your terrain, participating in team sports or by figuring how best to do exercise drills without the usual equipment.

The best part about outdoor fitness is that you adapt to your environment. If you live in New York City, you can do push-ups against parking meters or calf raises on the curb. If you live in the Los Angeles area, you can run on the beach or do pull-ups at the neighborhood playground. No environment should inhibit you from working out, as long as you're creative.

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Outdoor activities run the gamut, but here are a few anyone can try:

* Hiking: Whether you live in the Rocky Mountains, northern Minnesota or in the San Fernando Valley, trails abound. According to the magazine Ace Fitness Matters, participation in hiking has jumped nearly 40% during the last five years. In California, it's best to hit the trails early in the day to avoid intense heat. Also, mountain lions have been spotted in some regional and state parks, so talk to your park ranger before heading out.

* Wheel workouts: If walking or hiking doesn't offer enough speed for you, try in-line skating. You can rent in-line skates at many beach-area shops, and get a serious workout. If you are skilled enough to go fast, you can burn up to 600 calories an hour, according to Ace Fitness Matters.

* Biking: If you want to escape from urban life, try taking your mountain bike into the hills. Many California mountain parks offer trails and a good mix of both flat terrain and steep upgrades. If you live in an area without mountains, try biking on wooded trails or roads. Road biking also provides an excellent cardiovascular workout.

* Kayaking: If you are bored with lifting weights, kayaking offers a viable--and scenic--alternative and increases your upper-body strength and toning. Kayaking provides a solid workout for your chest, back, arms, shoulders and abdomen.

* Volleyball: Beach volleyball epitomizes summer, and the best part is that you'll get a thorough leg and arm workout while playing in the sand.

* Exercises: Take traditional exercises outside too. You don't need equipment to do many well-known drills. Try doing push-ups on a fallen tree or park bench, pull-ups on a jungle gym or sit-ups on the grass. A word of caution when you do outdoor activities, though: Make sure logs are sturdy if you use them for exercise drills. If you run outdoors, especially on trails, watch out for loose rocks and twigs. If it's raining, avoid slick pavement. And finally, wear breathable clothing, put on your sunscreen and don't forget to drink plenty of water before and after your outdoor adventures.

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Cheryl Meyer, an Orange County-based writer, contributed to this article.

* Karen Voight is a Los Angeles-based fitness expert whose column runs the first and third Mondays of each month. Her latest video is "Core Essentials." She can be reached by e-mail at kvoightla@aol.com.

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