Community Events

Take exercise classes outdoors for health benefits

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Participants of an outdoor fitness class start with a warm-up run at the Althouse Arboretum in Upper Pottsgrove. Michilea Patterson — Digital First Media

By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury

It’s not uncommon to run, bike or walk outside in the summer. But the sunny season and long days are also a great opportunity to bring traditionally indoor fitness classes out into the open. Exercise classes like Zumba, yoga and circuit training can easily be moved from the sometimes claustrophobic four walls of a building to the outside natural environment.

According to an Extreme Physiology & Medicine article titled “The great outdoors: How a green exercise environment can benefit all,” 31 percent of adults are physically inactive. The article attributed some of the decline to technological advances and the digital revolution. While computers, tablets and TVs have many benefits; they shouldn’t keep people from enjoying physical activity in nature.

Children were more active during outdoor recess than indoor recess, according to a study published on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. It’s not uncommon to prefer blue skies and beautiful trees as scenery than walls. This is why green spaces can actually help motivate people to exercise.

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Kim Skalamera leads an outdoor fitness in some warm-up exercises at the Althouse Arboretum in Upper Pottsgrove. Michilea Patterson — Digital First Media

“Green or natural spaces have been considered to be advantageous for health for many years. For example, in the UK during the 19th century Industrial Revolution, wealthy philanthropists developed urban parks for the benefit of the public’s health,” stated the Extreme Physiology & Medicine article.

Kim Skalamera along with her friend Stephanie Coleman started a seven-week outdoor fitness class called ArborFit at the arboretum open space area in Upper Pottsgrove. Both Skalamera and Coleman are working toward their personal certification license and thought the class would be a great way to get some hands-on experience. The classes are offered Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings until July 16. Skalamera said there’s no need for an indoor gym or expensive exercise equipment to get a good workout. She said the ArborFit classes are meant to show people that.

“You can go out of the four walls. Be outside. Be with nature,” she said.

Students in the outdoor fitness class use their own body weight and the natural environment for exercise. Rocks are used as dumbbells. Skalamera said the natural surroundings provide a great background for the workout.

“It’s just a different feel of exercise,” she said.

Class participants start with some warm-ups while listening to music such as jumping jacks and high knees. Then they go on a quick ½-mile run or walk on the trail at the arboretum. The fitness-minded individuals use a green open space area for the actual workout of the day. Skalamera said the exercise varies each time but it’s always some type of circuit training that involves the leg, arm and ab muscles. There has even been relay races during the class to make it fun with a friendly competition.

Skalamera said exercising at an indoor gym may sometimes feel intimidating and there’s added pressure.

“But when you come outside you have the fresh air. You have people who are just like you trying to get fit,” she said.

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The Pottstown YMCA and The Mercury held an outdoor zumba class at Memorial Park as part of the Fit for Life program July 9, 2014. Photo by John Strickler The Mercury

Circuit training isn’t the only fitness class that can be transferred outdoors. Zumba is a great activity that can be done in the park or just in a wide open space outside. All you need is music which is something that many people have ready to go on their phones. Yoga is another great activity that can be done in nature and actually can provide added peacefulness to the class. The chirping birds and natural sounds of the environment can help individuals to relax. Tai Chi is a great physical activity that would be perfect in the early morning with the sunrise or in the evening with the view of the beautiful sunset. The list goes on and on.

The point is that taking a fitness class out in nature has both physical and mental health benefits. A decline in physical activity has resulted in an increase in diseases and mental ill-health, according to the Extreme Physiology & Medicine article.

“It is essential, therefore, to find ways of engaging all individuals to improve health and prevent further increases in non-communicable diseases,” stated the article.

For more about the ArborFit outdoor fitness classes, visit the Facebook page www.facebook.com/arborfit.

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