Wednesday, March 14, 2012

RECOVERY: Let Mother Nature Recharge Your Workout Mojo

I'm not a big fan of winter.  I hate - with every molecule in my body - being cold.  If there were a stronger word than hate, I'd use it describe how much I loathe being cold.  I can't function when I'm cold.  And during the winter, I'm always cold.  But aside from the physical ick of winter, there's a mental ick as well.  Winter is depressing.  It's dreary, gray/brown, everything in the landscape is dead or dormant, and it's dark for way too long!

I guess I really shouldn't complain too much because Washington, D.C. has pretty mild winters, at least compared to Nebraska where I grew up.  But regardless, have I mentioned how much I hate being cold?

So once the first glint of spring appears every year, I start to feel like I've just been released from a winter prison!  My pasty white legs come out of their thermal leggings, my scrawny arms shed their layers of long sleeves, my mood lightens, and I find every excuse I can to get outside.  

The past couple weeks here in the Nation's capital, Mother Nature has slowly been showing us her spring colors and showering us with unseasonably warm temperatures.  And people have been going outside in droves!  All this week it's supposed to be in the mid- to high-70's, and it's the equivalent of a drug.  People are absolutely giddy.  Nice to each other. Smiling as they're walking to work.  Everything and everyone is coming out of the winter prison.

This past Sunday it was a perfect, sunny, mid-60-degree day.  So my boyfriend and I went to Shenandoah National Forest - one of my favorite places.  It's less than a 2-hour drive from D.C., and in such a short amount of time, you can leave the stress of the city far away in another world.  I've done a lot of hiking there in the last 14 years and it never gets old.

The valley and hills behind me...Good incentive to be able to hold a plank so you don't fall off! 
The day was absolutely perfect.  We did a short hike on a trail called Rose River Loop, which takes you to a beautiful series of waterfalls, which were really flowing because of all the rain we've gotten.  Here's a picture of some of the waterfalls...they're some of the smaller ones in Shenandoah, but they're still pretty:

Some of the Rose River falls...
Amazing I didn't fall off the log given what a clutz I am...
And just because the picture doesn't quite do it justice, here's a video (I'm not the best videographer):

The hike was downhill heading out and uphill heading back.  I honestly love hiking uphill...I love the burn!  I love feeling like my body is actually accomplishing something.  I love the challenge - it forces me to really focus.  And on this particularly nice day, I loved feeling the sun on my skin, getting my heart rate up, and working up a sweat.  I was finally warm!!

The hike in Shenandoah on Sunday was just what I needed to recharge.  I've honestly felt in a bit of a funk all winter and I swear sometimes that I have seasonal affective disorder.    But now that the weather is getting nicer, and the daffodils, cherry blossoms, and dogwood trees are blooming, I feel like I'm finally in bloom too!  So it got me thinking about the revitalizing, recharging benefits that Mother Nature has on us.

I read an article on Physical Living that said the majority of people today suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder. Turns out that's an actual term coined by author Richard Louv.  Whether that's a widely accepted clinical term now, I don't know, but I like it. Louv is the author of seven books, including Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder, and he proposes that children today have a severe disconnect with nature.  I'd go even further to say that most people today, especially those in an urbanized society, are deprived of a relationship with nature.

I'm not necessarily talking about communing with the birds and squirrels or joining some commune in the wilderness.  But there are benefits to spending more time outdoors.  The Harvard Health Publications from Harvard Medical School states that the benefits from being outside include:

  • A rise in Vitamin D levels:  Sun on your skin leads to the creation and activation of Vitamin D, which can help fight osteoporosis, cancer, depression, and heart attacks. Make sure to wear your sun screen though and don't overdo your sun exposure.  
  • Happiness:  natural light tends to elevate people's moods. 
  • Improved concentration:  Children with ADHD have been shown to have improved concentration after being outdoors.  Although this is not confirmed in adults, it certainly can't hurt to take a walk outside to clear your head...I know it helps me. 
  • You may heal faster:  A 2005 University of Pittsburgh study showed that spinal surgery patients had less pain, took fewer medications, and healed faster when exposed to natural light.  
Also, people (like me) are more inclined to exercise if they can go outside.  And why not - again, the natural light makes us happy.  Plus, you're more mentally stimulated outside than when you're in the gym on the treadmill or stationary bike.  You get to watch the scenery, notice the people walking their dogs, breathe in the fresh air, and make fun of other people's pasty white legs (or maybe that's just me).  

It may seem obvious to most of you to get outside for your workouts.  But getting outside to exercise doesn't just have to mean doing your same old run or bike workouts.  Here are some ideas for other physical activity that you can do to recharge your workout mojo, or just give you a boost.  Now's the time, while we're still in the pre-season mode, to try some different outdoor activities:  
  • Walking:  Seriously, when was the last time you just went for a walk, maybe after your lunch or for a break during the day?  
  • Yard work:  Raking leaves certainly counts for exercise. 
  • Kayaking:  Great workout for your upper body.  
  • Roller blading:  What better way to feel like you're reliving your childhood roller skating days! 
  • Hiking:  A great ab, butt, and leg workout that also helps you build endurance. 
  • Trail running:  Get off the sidewalk for awhile and find a little trail.  (Just be careful not to sprain your ankle like I do!).  
  • Yoga:  Have you ever actually done yoga outside?  It's so liberating! Whole Living has a good outdoor yoga routine.  
  • Strength training:  Forget the gym...strength train with Mother Nature.  It's not hard to do some outdoor squats, tricep dips, or balance drills. Whole Living also has a great outdoor strength routine.  
So now that Mother Nature is waking up, why not wake up your tired old workout routine and make sure that during the day, you're spending some additional time outside...    

What do you do during the day to get outside more?  Do you have a favorite outdoor workout? 

Shenandoah when it's green in the spring/summer...


Nadine said...

That hike looks fantastic. It's been getting nice in Toronto too (today it's 18 degrees, not sure what that is in F, but, it's warm).

I love running around parks, and now that its warming up it will be busier and safer to hit the parks of Toronto, so excited for spring.

Nadine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Life Through Endurance said...

Hey Nadine, thanks so much of the comment! And I guess I shouldn't complain about being cold to a Canadian! I'd love to come up there sometime to do some hiking....
And 18 degrees Celsius is about 64 degrees F, so that is a nice temp!! Enjoy!

Jen said...

I try to park as far away as possible from the office so I can walk to and fro. I also attempt to get outside for a walk in nice weather a couple of short walks in the day - 5-10 mins. Just enough to be outside for a bit. If I can possibly make it happen, I run outside.