5 reasons to skip the gym, and where to exercise instead

Early June brings sunshine and fair weather in most parts of the country. So hopefully, you’re not really thinking about staying indoors to exercise in a stale, dirty indoor gym. As I’ll explain in a moment, you gain five important benefits by dropping your gym membership.

The word gym actually comes from the German “gymnasium,” a state-run education system that dates back to the 1500s. In Germany, the most academically gifted students went to the gymnasium to prepare mentally and physically for university.

But somewhere along the line, going to the gymnasium became an exercise in torture.

Today, exercise is all about extremes…extreme biking…regimented marathon training…hot yoga. The exercise industry even guilts you into feeling like you need to obsessively track your every footstep during the day.

But research shows you don’t have to (and should not) go to extremes, “pump iron,” or pound away for miles and miles on treadmills to stay healthy. (In fact, as I’ve warned before, this kind of extreme exercise can wear out your heart and your joints and lead to an earlier death.)

Moderate physical activity–which includes housework, yard work, swimming, and walking–actually provides the most physical benefits. Plus, when you do work around the house and yard, you feel like you actually gotten some real work done for all your time and energy–which has its own benefits for mood and mental state.

So, here are five great reasons to skip the gym and exercise outside…

Reason No. 1: You’ll save money 

Gym memberships cost anywhere from $40 to $200 per month. And many gyms require you to lock into a yearlong commitment. But 67 percent of all people who buy gym memberships don’t use them. (Just imagine what those feelings of guilt can do to your mental health!)

Even if you do get to the gym regularly, you probably don’t get enough for your money when you think about all the time you waste driving, parking, changing, and waiting to get on equipment or “finding a lane.”

So instead of wasting your money on something you’ll rarely use–consider exercising outside for free.

And that brings us to the next big benefit to dropping your gym membership…

Reason No. 2: You’ll feel better–in both body and mind

There’s nothing better than moderate activity and exercise outdoors in Nature.

First of all, it’s more physically challenging.

When you walk, run, or cycle outside in Nature, your body has to adjust to all the different and unexpected surfaces, inclines, and slopes. The natural terrain is gentler on your joints. Plus, it forces you to flex your ankles and feet. It also makes you use more muscles in different ways, reducing repetitive strain and injuries.

Second–exercising outdoors is more enjoyable.

When you exercise outside, you commune with Nature. You see beauty instead of artificial machines that resemble medieval torture devices. Outside you can hear the birds, water, and wind in the trees. At the gym, you hear the grunts and growls of hormone-charged zealots. Outside, you breathe fresh air. Inside you smell the foul emissions of overheated artificial rubber, plastic and metal surfaces and sweaty clothes.

Third–exercising outdoors is better for your mind and body.

In fact, research shows, men and women who exercise outdoors consistently perform better on psychological tests than those who perform the same amount of exercise indoors. They score higher on enthusiasm, pleasure, self-esteem, and vitality. And they score lower on depression, fatigue, and tension. People who exercise outdoors also have lower levels of cortisol–the chronic stress hormone.

Plus, they exercise longer…

In a recent study at the University of California, San Diego, researchers followed 754 men and women who regularly exercised. The participants were 66 years and older. The researchers found that men and women who exercised outdoors did it more frequently, longer, and more consistently compared to their indoor-exercising peers.

So–it appears outdoor exercise represents a virtuous cycle. It’s more physically natural. And it makes you feel better. So you end up doing even more of it.

Try taking a walk around a park, in your neighborhood, or even at your local public school. Many public schools in my area look like they spent small fortunes in taxpayer money to build gorgeous athletic facilities that could host the next Olympic Games or World Cup. (And they may have to, given all the associated scandals now being uncovered!) So take advantage of your hard-earned tax money by walking around your new school soccer field or playing a set on the tennis courts.

Reason No. 4: You’ll save time & avoid unhealthy distractions 

When you really think about it, you do waste a lot of time driving back and forth to the gym in your car. Plus, there are also many distractions at the gym. Even my local YMCA now has TVs installed on all the treadmills and elliptical gliders. Do you really think watching CNN or MSNBC while you exercise is a healthy pursuit for body and mind?

When you exercise around your home or neighborhood, you will save time.

You’ll also avoid becoming distracted by those who only go to the gym (or work there) to socialize. Plus, you’ll see all the beauty Nature has to offer instead of another depressing news story on TV.

Reason No. 5: You’ll stay healthier 

At the gym, men and women breathe, spit, cough, sneeze, and sweat their germs all over the place. But most people don’t take the time to wipe down surfaces. So during cold and flu season, you’re much more likely to catch a respiratory infection if you work out at the gym.

Truthfully–germs and fungi cause problems year-round (as I told you yesterday), including at the gym. In fact, aside from hospitals, the gym is the most common place to pick up an antibiotic-resistant infection like MRSA, the “flesh-eating” bacteria. But when you exercise outdoors, you won’t come into contact with these communicable infections.

Best of all–when you exercise outside, you spend time in the sun, which activates your skin’s production of vitamin D. And that’s a major positive benefit. Research shows this critical vitamin helps ward off just about every chronic disease in the book. Plus, exposure to sunlight lowers your blood pressure, as I will explain in an upcoming Daily Dispatch.

Unfortunately, most of the country is deficient in vitamin D. And that’s one major reason why I’m upping my recommendation for daily vitamin D3 intake to 10,000 IU. I’ll tell you more about my new vitamin D recommendation in Friday’s Daily Dispatch.

In the meantime, change up your exercise routine. Give up that expensive and often unhealthy gym membership. Go the natural route instead. You’ll enjoy it more. You’ll get more out of it. And you’ll even help keep up your vitamin D along the way.


“The Benefits of Exercising Outdoors,” New York Times (www.nytimes.com) 2/21/2013