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Outdoor activities designed to deliver physical and mental health benefits

Summer heat adds to the stress on the body and it’s important to exercise outdoors safely.

Indians marked International Yoga Day at the Red Fort in New Delhi as the country said it would open up free vaccinations to all adults - Copyright AFP/File Money SHARMA
Indians marked International Yoga Day at the Red Fort in New Delhi as the country said it would open up free vaccinations to all adults - Copyright AFP/File Money SHARMA

With the warm summer weather shining down on northern hemisphere, participating in outdoor activities is something that many people consider. For those not tempted to ease out of their armchair, the consideration of physical activity is an important one. Outdoor activities in particular bring forth a host of psychological and physiological benefits.

These benefits are discussed by Samantha Harden, an associate professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise and a Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist.

Harden has told Digital Journal: “Outdoor activities are an opportunity to come back to nature and ‘disconnect’ from the technological world.”

The health expert adds: “We live in such an overstimulated world that coming back to nature can give us opportunities to find that balance that we all need.”

As to what levels of activity are useful, the U.S. ‘Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans’ (2nd edition) includes 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and two days of full body strength training.

With these recommendations, most people know about aerobic exercise but not strength training, Harden explains.

She clarifies: “Both forms of exercise are added together over a week. And the strength training doesn’t have to be with added weight. It can be with your body weight as well.

Safety during all forms of exercise is important.”

There are some important nuances when panning this form of exercise, says Harden: “One thing we focus on is your own perceived rate of exertion. Something that is considered mild for someone could be moderate or even vigorous for someone else. It’s always important to do what is within your own cardiovascular and muscular safety limits.”

In terms of what to plan for, summer outdoor aerobic and strength activities can be wide-ranging, from taking a walk with the family or throwing a ball with a dog, Harden adds.

Other outdoor activities include:

  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Kayaking
  • Outdoor yoga
  • A pickup game of dodgeball, volleyball, or basketball
  • Swimming in natural water or a pool.

There are some safety points, however. According to Harden: “Summer heat adds to the stress on the body and it’s important to exercise outdoors safely.”

Harden has a few tips for monitoring your body and when to cease activities when outside in the summer heat. These are:

  • Feeling cold or clammy when outside in the heat
  • Unable to catch your breath
  • Turning excessively red
  • Breathing too heavily

Harden cautions that anyone “experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to cease the exercise and drink fluids and get somewhere cooler, if possible. It’s also possible to condition the body to summer heat by taking it slow.”

To prepare for outdoor activities in the summer heat and humidity, Harden says to build up a heat tolerance.

Here she details: “Start by just being outside in the heat for 15 minutes. Just like with physical activity where you’re trying to avoid muscle injury and want to build up low and slow, you want to do the same for heat exposure. The first day can be overwhelming, but over time at the same temperature and duration, it doesn’t feel as uncomfortable.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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