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Why Working Out Outside Works continued...

This, clearly, is the most tangible benefit of outdoor exercise. It's more enjoyable, which translates to more frequent and more efficient participation.

"People respond to the peace of mind and freedom," says Suzanne Nottingham, a fitness instructor in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. "They like not having to worry about anyone around them."

Nottingham occasionally trains clients in the gym but is best known for her open-air activities. In fact, she created a program of outdoor cross-training that has been adapted by firefighters and the Senior Olympics, among other organizations. "It can be as simple as walking, plus a couple of diversions like step-ups on curbs or pull-ups from tree branches," Nottingham says.

Fresh-Air Fitness

Tina Vindum keeps things lively by varying her workouts constantly. One day she leads clients on a trail run through Muir Woods, stopping at various stations for strength-training work (using elastic cords, not barbells). The next session they're toting 45-pound packs up the Dipsea stairs, a notorious series of 676 steps on a trail linking the town of Mill Valley with the Pacific Ocean. The variety keeps her clients coming back, but it's the outdoor angle that hooks them in the first place, Vindum says.

Compare gym-cycling, for example, with running on an uneven dirt path where a steep embankment drops off to one side. On the footpath, you are forced to concentrate on each step. Vindum calls this "kinesthetic awareness." It's the sort of intense focus that mentally invigorates her clients, even as they work to physical exhaustion.

True, not everyone has the ocean or the Dipsea stairs to incorporate into their regimens. But most of us can find a city park or a country lane without looking too hard.

And don't forget the safety issues to consider out in the real world. You have to look both ways for cars, of course, and carry water if you're exposed to the sun or exercising in a hot climate for an extended period of time. Rain and wind? Sorry, you're not necessarily excused on account of the elements. Vindum has canceled only two classes in five years, despite the El Niño winter of 1997-1998.

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