Have fun this summer—and get a great workout while you're at it.
Reason No. 14 why you can't exercise today: You're too busy. And if you had free time (which you don't!), you wouldn't waste it at the gym. No, you'd do something fun, like go to a movie or watch the ball game from the comfort of your couch. Whether you're on the go, tired, stressed, or bored out of your mind, working out, for many people, isn't all that fun. Even so, it's essential that you get active. Countless studies testify to the lifesaving benefits of exercise—including improved glucose control and reduced insulin resistance, lowered blood pressure, better cholesterol, and reduced risk of disease.
Of course, there's a catch.
To experience the rewards of engaging in physical activity, you need to do it often. "It works like a drug. If you take it, it works for a while. But if you stop taking it, [the effects are] gone," says Barry Braun, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who is currently studying the use of exercisbe to lower insulin resistance. "To keep maintaining the effects, you need to exercise at least every other day."
Now for the good news: You can learn to enjoy exercise by altering your view of what it means to work out. "Some people get this idea in their heads that the only place you work out is a formal setting. The exercises and the workouts people get should not be limited strictly to a gym," says Jonathan Chang, MD, clinical assistant professor in orthopedic surgery and sports medicine at the University of Southern California and a spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine. During the summer, warm-weather outdoor activities like swimming in the ocean, walking a nature trail, or riding horseback through the countryside are fun enough to make you forget you're getting a heart-pounding workout. Sure, you'll have to be flexible with your routine (say, speed walking through the mall when the air quality plummets or torrential rain arrives), but you may just find that your excitement to exercise carries over to less-than-stellar weather days. "If you are doing something you enjoy, you will look forward to doing it," says Chang.
Jump-start your fitness routine today. Each of the five calorie-burning activities that follow combines fresh air and fun into a workout you'll actually enjoy, for a great change of pace from your usual regimen.
Get Out and...
...Walk through History
If you ever trudged up the 354 stairs leading to the Statue of Liberty's crown or plodded on tired feet to the top of Notre Dame, you know that sightseeing can be a workout in itself. Get your dose of fitness by vacationing in a historic city. Most require plenty of walking from one attraction to the next, and large buildings like cathedrals and monuments involve stair climbs that will certainly get your heart pumping. Wondering where you'll get the most burn for your buck? Try one of these locations:
Be a bona fide tourist and walk the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile trek that stops at 16 different historic spots—like the site of the Boston Massacre, the Old North Church, where two lanterns alerted Paul Revere of the British arrival, and the monument marking the Battle of Bunker Hill—as it winds through the city. Don't miss Boston Common, an expansive green space perfect for biking or rollerblading, and Faneuil Hall, a vendor-packed meeting place and market once frequented by John Hancock and Frederick Douglass.
- San Francisco
Climbing the undulating streets of this hilly city is enough to burn half a day's calories. To get some history with your workout, take your walk across the 1.7-mile Golden Gate Bridge (1937). Later, check out lively Chinatown, home to the city's oldest street and dozens of blocks of shops and markets. Or board the ferry to Alcatraz Island for a walking tour of the former high-security prison that once lodged infamous inmates like Al Capone.
- Washington, D.C.
Visit all of the capital city's historic attractions in one weekend, and you'll return home with a case of burnout. Plan carefully, on the other hand, and you can get a major workout while studying up on our nation's early years. You can also wander through the halls of the expansive National Gallery of Art, which houses works from masters like Gauguin, Degas, and Monet. Or, for more of a heart-pounding workout, try this: Walk from the U.S. Capitol across the National Mall until you hit the Washington Monument. Next, speed walk past the World War II Memorial and Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial. Jog up the steps, then back down toward the Korean War Memorial. Double back toward the Capitol to hit the Smithsonian museums.
If you enjoy the Stairmaster, or just want to burn major calories while viewing some of the most magnificent sites in the world, take a European vacation. Get fit in Paris by mounting the steep hills of the neighborhood Montmartre until you hit the basilica Sacré Coeur, stroll along the Seine river, or huff and puff your way to the height of Notre Dame. The Czech Republic's Prague has just as many opportunities for fitness. Walk the steep road that leads to Prague Castle, the largest medieval castle in the world or wander around the castle complex and climb the tower for a brilliant view of the city, and you'll get a better workout than you'd experience at the gym. Rome offers a similarly gratifying yet thorough exercise experience at its ancient amphitheater, the Colosseum. Simply lapping the immense structure is enough to leave you breathless—both literally and figuratively.
...Play Hide and Seek
Plodding along on a treadmill? Tedious. Searching for buried treasure? Worth the sweat. "When you're on the treadmill or elliptical, no matter how much effort you put into it, you're not getting anyplace," says Chang, admitting that he avoids gyms and instead opts for outdoor training. Give yourself something to work for by joining in on the geocaching craze. The grown-up game of hide-and-seek will give you a reason to spend the day walking, hiking, crouching, and climbing. Here's how it works: players plant "caches," or buried treasures, around the world then log the coordinates at www.geocaching.com. Modern day treasure hunters visit the site, note the coordinates, reference a couple of encrypted clues, and, armed with a global positioning system, try to locate the hidden cache. When they find a cache—containing anything from a logbook or journal to trinkets, cash, or clues to another buried collection—seekers can keep its contents but must in turn submit their own treasure. You can go after a cache that caters to your own physical prowess (some are hidden in walkable urban areas; others require hunters to traipse through the woods and scale craggy mounts) or bury one on your own turf.
...Donate Your Time
Instead of bemoaning a workout, consider donating your time and energy to helping others in need. Habitat for Humanity, a national organization that builds homes for disadvantaged families across the country, welcomes volunteers willing to get dirty for its home-building projects. Even if you can't tell the difference between a hammer and a mallet, you can help by painting, picking up trash, or landscaping. Dedicate a full day to a housing project and you may get a better workout than if you had sweated for 30 minutes at the gym. Plus, you'll have helped put a roof over a needy family's head.
Give the kids a break from the computer, strap a leash on the dog, and head to a local fair. During the summer, expansive events—like craft, antique, agricultural, and state fairs—set up shop over sprawling grounds across the country. Take advantage of the occasion by turning a family outing into an opportunity for exercise. Some fairgrounds boast as many as 320 acres of exposition land, so walking around the event can burn a great deal of calories. "Most people don't seem to recognize that walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise," says Chang. "We're not talking about leisurely walking. We're talking about something that increases your heart rate." You can do this by quickening your pace and lapping the grounds several times (give yourself extra points for schlepping shopping bags with you). A word of caution: Most fairs sell greasy, high-fat, high-sodium foods. If you're going to benefit from this activity, pack a healthy snack, and say no to fair food. Yes, that includes funnel cakes.
...Take to the Water
The beauty of paddling is that you control your pace. Push hard and fast so that your boat slices through the water seamlessly to experience an intense, sweat-inducing workout. Go slow, taking breaks to drift and enjoy nature; you'll still reap cardiovascular and muscle- building rewards. Or try something more serious: "[Kayaking will] give you a very heavy workout depending on the venue. You can put out as much energy as you want or you can rest if need be," says Chang, noting that ponds and lakes are less intense than white water rapids, which require significant muscle strength and skill. If you've never set out on the water, grab a guide and get going. To find an outfitter in your area, log on to the Paddlesports Industry Association's Web site, www.paddlesportsindustry.org. For group trips, look to outdoor outfitter REI (www.rei.com) or the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.com). If you're on a group tour, consider notifying your guide about your diabetes so he or she can schedule stops for you to check your blood glucose, take insulin, or eat a quick snack. When you hit dry land, take note of how you feel. That exhilarating satisfaction you experience comes from communing with nature while working up a sweat, and it's what will make you stick to a fitness routine. It doesn't matter if you powered through stair climbs at the Lincoln Memorial or speeded around a county fair. If you had enough fun to forget you were working out, you've succeeded.
How does your favorite outdoor activity stack up?
Activity/Calories per hour*
Singles tennis: 549
Jumping rope, slowly: 545
Biking on flat surface: 441
Heavy cleaning: 432
Half-court basketball: 405
Whitewater rafting: 341
Mowing the lawn with a pushmower: 324
Brisk walking: 297
Horseback riding: 273
Playing with your kids: 216
*Calorie estimates are for a 150-pound person. How many calories you'll use varies depending on your weight and the intensity of your exercise. To get a better idea of how much you would burn, divide your weight by 150. Then multiply the result by the number of calories burned per hour, above.
Before You Go...
Here's the thing about exercising outdoors: If you don't plan ahead, you could end up a sunburned, mosquito-bitten, blister-burdened mess. Save yourself the pain by taking these eight steps to ensure your healthy (and happy) return. And don't forget to check first with your health care provider if you're unsure whether an activity is safe for you.
Wear sunscreen. You'll avoid a scorching burn and, more important, prevent future skin cancer. Pick an SPF of 30 or higher, and slather it all over—even on your hands and ears.
Spray yourself. If you're hiking through the woods, paddling a creek, or just happen to live in a particularly buggy area, insect repellant is key. Spray it on before you leave home and, if you can carry it, bring backup.
Pick the right socks. Yes, you need to wear the right shoes. But even with the best sneaks, slapping on just any pair of socks could lead to abrasion and blisters. If you plan on doing a lot of moving (think hiking or biking), your feet are going to sweat, so go for a moisture-wicking material like polyester. If you're participating in light activity (such as a short walk), cotton should be OK.
Ensure your safety. Before you power walk around the city or go solo in the woods, make sure the area is safe. If you're uncertain, ask around or pick a different location.
Watch the weather. Getting caught in a storm while hiking or biking isn't just annoying—it's dangerous. Before you embark on any outdoor adventure, check the local forecast.
Bring a drink. Sipping water is always important during the hot and humid summer months. And when you're exercising outdoors, it's crucial. Bring a water bottle to make sure you stay hydrated throughout your workout.
Pack right. Equip yourself with a roomy backpack that can carry your insulin, testing supplies, and a couple of small snacks or glucose tablets. Since insulin shouldn't be stored in hot temperatures—like a steamy backpack that's been baking in the sun—put it in a cooling pouch first. You never know how exercising will affect your blood glucose or when a 20-minute walk will turn into an I've-been-lost-for-3-hours ordeal. When it comes to your health, it pays to be prepared.
ID yourself. You can't predict accidents, so it's important to wear a medical alert tag every time you work out. If you're at risk for hypoglycemia, it's a good idea to put one on whenever you leave the house.
(More) Ways to Have Fun Outside
Need a few extra outdoor fitness ideas? We came up with 25 activities that will help you get fit while having fun.
- Plant a garden, lay some mulch, or pull out pesky weeds
- Wash your car.
- Mow your lawn—with a push mower.
- Add resistance to your walk by joining a baby stroller group for moms or dads.
- Play with your kids. Capture the flag, catch, and tag all count.
- Take the dog on a longer walk—he'll appreciate it.
- Find a nature trail near your home.
- Have a tag sale: Get a workout and raise a little extra cash.
- Head to the beach to swim and walk along the shore.
- Get adventurous with white water rafting.
- Take the family camping.
- Go for a hike.
- Learn a new (and low-impact) sport: golf.
- Keep it simple by going for a 30-minute walk.
- Strap on some rollerblades.
- Run through a park or botanical garden.
- Grab a bicycle and peddle through the neighborhood.
- Toss around a Frisbee.
- Find a pick-up basketball game.
- Sign up for a house tour.
- Grab a racket, and play tennis or badminton.
- Bring the kids to a farm to pick strawberries or peaches.
- Appreciate nature while horseback riding.
- Give surfing a try.
- Explore the ocean while snorkeling.