The rain is hitting me in the face now and I start trudging up the mountain. Five minutes in and I’m feeling stoked. I’m trucking upward, feeling totally invincible. Another two minutes comes and goes and I find my pace has slowed considerably. I’m breathing hard, my core temperature is elevating, and my brain is starting to tell me to slow down a bit. I’ve only done about 18 percent of the hill.
Today I opted not to go to the gym. Today, Blue Mountain is my gym. At 31, I’m decently fit, eat well, and exercise as often as I can—I enjoy it, after all. Except none of that matters when you’re up against a mountain. The mountain doesn’t care what you bench. It doesn’t care how many calories you can burn on a 30-minute elliptical cycle. And it really doesn’t care about your new Lulus.
More and more people dedicated to challenging themselves physically are ditching the gym and hitting the trails to beat down a few calories.
Getting outside does a number of profound things to the body that researchers say elevates the effects of a solid workout and helps contribute to better overall health. According to Harvard Medical School, exercising outside does many distinct things that will routinely help you outperform your old gym self.
First, your vitamin D levels will skyrocket, and the ol’ sunshine vitamin is responsible for getting your liver and kidneys working through the circuitous process when the sun hits your skin, helping protect the body against osteoporosis, certain cancers, depression, heart attacks, and even stroke.
Your levels of overall happiness will also rise. Researchers from the University of Essex found that after just five minutes of “green exercise” people reported an improved mood and sense of self-esteem. Plus, greening your workout enhances your ability to concentrate long after you’ve gone home. A few studies on children with ADHD found they scored consistently better on concentration tests after taking a walk through a park when compared to an urban walk.
Halfway up, I give myself a break for five minutes. I sit on the wet grass and huff and puff for a while—steam is coming off of my shoulders and back, and I can’t tell if the water running down my face is lake-effect mist or liberated calories…
Back home, my HIIT (high-intensity interval training) class instructor always preaches how the mind will sabotage the body every chance it gets. The mind is much weaker than the body, and it will try to get you to seek comfort at every turn. So I imagine a tiny coach on my shoulder, whispering to my brain on behalf of my body to zip it. Using your brain to ignore your brain is hysterical to me, so I laugh an unsettling laugh and give my psyche an unconstitutional nudge of disapproval that’s weirdly motivating.
Researchers found that after just five minutes of “green exercise” people reported an improved mood.
I’m hit with a big boost of energy and take off like a shot up the mountain. This time, the lull doesn’t really come back. The body is in charge now. Nearing the top, I can see I’m almost home free—but according to CAA that’s where most accidents happen. On the flat of the Escarpment crest, my jog turns to a hobble as my left ankle seizes up, the after-effects of a 15-year-old skateboarding accident. I powerwalk the rest of the journey and stare down into the fog. All by myself. Triumphant.
My iPhone Health app tells me I’ve ascended an approximate 65 flights of stairs and logged 2,240 steps. A bit of at-home research tells me that’s about 1,680 calories—double what I’d typically burn during an hour workout at the gym.
The moral to the story is this: we’re animals, and animals are meant to lead lives outdoors. Hiking the mountain, hiking a trail, mountain biking, paddleboarding—you name it—they aren’t just cool things to stroke off your to-do list. They should become a mainstay of our collective health identity. From elevated feelings of happiness to improved physical health, living it outside is literally what the doctor ordered.
Article excerpted from Mountain Life–Blue Mountains.