Head to nature’s gym

shutterstock_137122994South Africa has arguably the best climate in the world, so why not use that to your advantage? Take your training outside this summer and see how great it makes you look and feel – just be sure to keep your sunscreen handy.

Green exercise may be the best way to lose weight, feel pretty great and even get smarter. Researchers at the University of Rochester say that just 20 active minutes outside can wake up your body and mind, making you feel more alive. So forget about gym contracts, fancy equipment and structured programming. Get your friends and family outdoors to soak up some vitamin D-rich rays. Breathe in the fresh air and get your heart pumping, circulation flowing and feel- good endorphins racing through your body.

The joys of exercising outdoors go beyond frolicking in the sunshine. According to Greg Wells, assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Toronto, research shows outdoor activity is beneficial, both psychologically and physiologically. Studies reveal that training outdoors boosts your mood and lowers tension, anxiety and stress levels.

So staying active over the holidays will not only help you to burn off the extra festive foods, but it will also manage stress and keep you sane during the silly season.

The trick to staying in shape over the holidays is making sure you work out regularly – but let’s face it, who wants to train over this period? Make your workouts fun; do something different to trick your mind into thinking you are not exercising, but still give your body the benefits of training. An Ohio State University study suggests that you’re 23% more likely to repeat an outside session because it’s more fun – even if you are just walking.

Being away for the holidays doesn’t mean you aren’t able to exercise. “All you have to do is step out into the amazing South African outdoors and the opportunities are endless. You could start with something as simple as going for a walk or run around the block or in a park,” says Jono Cloete, managing director of Urban Fitness Outdoor SA.

Try to mix it up where you can. If you are going on a beach holiday, try surfing; it’s great for your core, as is frisbee-throwing, which works your arms and obliques for a more trimmed waistline. You can also try bodyboarding for an arm and back workout, or you can hit the beach for a game of beach soccer or volleyball – both require more effort than regular soccer or volleyball, because the sand forces you to work harder at lifting your legs. This is a good way to tone your calves, thighs and bum. If you are feeling adventurous, why not try your hand at kite- surfing? It offers a total-body workout and is loads of fun, too. If you are planning an inland break or stay-cation, invite your friends around for a game of touch-rugby or cricket. These sports might seem child’s play, but that’s the beauty of it – the more fun you have, the more you will want to do it. And don’t be fooled into thinking you won’t burn calories or work muscle groups. If you want to do something a little different, plan a trail run or cycle, or spend the day hiking in the mountains. Research shows that running outdoors is easier on the body, because there is less stress on the body and the heart rate remains lower, compared to running indoors on a treadmill, at the exact same speed. This doesn’t mean that exercising outdoors is easier or that you get less of a workout. In fact, it could be quite the opposite; when you run on a treadmill, it’s stable, secure and controllable, but outside, you have to navigate hills and different surfaces such as grass, concrete and sand, all of which challenge the body in different ways. “Additional stress and strain on the human body is great, because that’s actually what stimulates us to improve,” says Wells. “It’s those stresses, pressures and strains that send signals to our cells that the cells need to get stronger, that we need to build stronger muscles – a strong heart, stronger lungs.” After just five minutes of any outdoor exercise, you’re happier and more confident, says a study from the University of Essex – and this lift can last all day.

“If outdoor fitness seems a bit daunting to you and you have no idea where to start, why not sign up for a group outdoor exercising class? You can rely on an expert to help you to get the most out of your workout, and it’s a great way to meet people,” says Cloete.

Outdoor activities don’t have to be exclusively for holidays. If you fancy a bit of beach volleyball but don’t live near the sea, try Pococks (find out more at www.beachsports.co.za). If you love the idea of training outdoors with a group of fun-loving people, try Urban Fitness Outdoor SA (visit www.urbanfitness.co.za or follow them on Twitter @urbanfitsa). There are also group kettlebell and yoga classes that are held outdoors – check your local fitness centre to find out where they are in your area.