Four Ways to Get Fit in the Great Outdoors

We know the gym’s not for everyone. Running on the spot yet going nowhere, staring at a wall of screens playing daytime soap operas and MTV is not particularly inspiring. If you’re the kind of person who feels like a hamster in a wheel when walking on a treadmill you may just need a healthy dose of the great outdoors to get your blood pumping and endorphins flowing. Summer’s here and there’s never been a better time to get outside and get active.

We asked Exercise Physiologist Mark Simpson for advice on the best outdoor exercises for people living with diabetes.

1. Go off-roading

Studies have shown that short bouts of high intensity exercise can have more powerful effects on your health than longer periods of moderate exercise. Mark recommends the following:

“Walk or jog across a range of different terrain such as stairs, hills and sand to focus on getting your heart rate above eighty per cent – it should feel like an 8 or 9 out of 10 in terms of effort. Aim to complete a period  of work that lasts for 30-90 seconds at this higher intensity, then recover for the same amount of time at a lower, more moderate pace.

“I recommend walking or running upstairs or uphill at vigorous intensity, then walking back down as your recovery. Try completing anywhere between three to six sets depending on your current level of physical activity and fitness levels,” he said.

2. Body weight resistance training

Many parks now contain basic exercise equipment allowing you to incorporate resistance training into your outdoor workout. Mark recommends circuit-based training as a highly effective way to improve lean muscle mass and reduce fat stores. Importantly for people living with diabetes, this type of training can help to improve blood glucose management due to increased insulin sensitivity.

Mark says: “Try these four simple exercises. Aim to complete ten repetitions of each exercise, and build up your repetitions until you’re able to complete two to four sets of each.”

  • Squats

    Use a bench or chair as your guide for this exercise. Stand with feet a litter wider than hip width apart. Raise your arms so they’re parallel with the ground. Bend your knees slowly, keeping your back straight and shoulders back. Sink down to just before your bottom touches the bench, keeping your hips down and back straight as if you are sitting in a chair – this helps to unload the knee joints. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly return to standing.

    Mark’s tip: If you’re not used to doing squats, start out with a simple sit-to-stand exercise, performing the same motion but placing your weight fully on the bench while in the seated position. Then, once you’ve mastered this movement, try the full squat without touching the bench.

  • Bench push up

    Place your hands feet width apart on the bench (opt for a picnic table height if you’re a beginner.) The optimum height for the bench is halfway between your knees and hips.

    With shoulders above hands, step back so that your body is at roughly a 45 degree angle and in a nice, straight line. Brace your abdominals to stabilise your spine by drawing your belly button inwards. Start to bend your elbows as far as they can go (the goal is to reach a 90 degree angle) while keeping your body straight.  Then use your chest muscles to return to the straight-armed position.

    Mark’s tip: Remember to breathe throughout the exercise! If you find you can achieve the bench height push up without any difficulties, challenge yourself by choosing an even lower starting point, such as a foot rail.

  • Step ups

    First, find a suitable surface to act as your step. It could be a kerb or a bench, depending on your range of movement and fitness levels. Place one foot on the step, then bring the other foot up to meet it. Once both feet are firmly planted on the step, simply reverse the action – left foot, then right, back to the floor. Repeat nine more times.

    Mark’s tip: Alternate your leading foot every second set to ensure you’re working both sides of the body evenly.

  • Waist to sky lifts

    Holding something of moderate weight (2-4 kg) in each hand, take the weight from your hips to shoulders by bending elbows, then push overhead, slowly controlling the movement as you bring your arms back down the same way. Have one foot forward and one foot back, maintain a tall posture and keep your abdominals braced throughout the movement.

    Mark’s tip: Not sure if your local park has exercise equipment? Visit your local council website for a map of facilities.

3. Mix it up

Variety is the spice of life. Don’t forget to mix up your exercise! Being physically active doesn’t need to feel like a chore. With the warmer weather there are so many more opportunities to incorporate gentle exercise into your leisure routine.

Get outside and shoot some hoops with the kids, take the dog out for a run, kick the footy around with the grandkids or just take a different or longer walking route than usual.

Mark’s tip: Mixing up your daily activities help to change the intensity of your exercise and forces the body to adapt and improve. Keep it fun and keep it varied!

4. Shadow boxing

“Boxing outdoors is a fun and different way to really get the heart pumping – regardless of your personal fitness levels,” Mark said.

Start with your fists up in front of your face, elbows in, knees slightly bent. Jab your arm out in front of you, then quickly retract it. Then repeat with your left. For overhead punches, start with your arm low and out behind you. Swing it up and around above your shoulder and head, so that you’re punching downward in front of your face. Retract your elbow back into your chest.

Mark’s tip: Try the below combos for 30 seconds on, 30 seconds rest.

A: Left jab, right jab, step

B: Left jab, left jab, right jab, step

C: Overhead punches

D: Left jab, right uppercut, left jab, right hook

Mark Simpson is an accredited Exercise Physiologist. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the view of Sanofi. 

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