Exercise doesn’t have to be gymming!

Exercise in the Great Outdoors

The way you embrace exercise is an important and personal choice. Most of us would agree that the enjoyment factor of how we exercise impacts greatly on the longevity of our commitment. Therefore, identifying your fitness preferences should be the first step in getting active. Signing up to the local gym may be the obvious approach for some but is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. So, what are the realistic alternatives? Here in Aotearoa we are fortunate to be surrounded by an abundance of choices and opportunities that promote an active lifestyle. Knowing where to look and opening your mind to adopting new habits that support this lifestyle, may mean the difference between you sticking to it or not.

On Ya Bike

Whether it’s a road bike, mountain bike or E-Bike, swapping out four wheels for two benefits the body, mind and the environment.

Cycling is an efficient way of travel and comes with the added bonus of a cardiovascular workout, endorphin kick and zero carbon footprint. With today’s fast paced way of life, getting around by bike is a great way to incorporate exercise into already jam-packed routines. Choosing to cycle over driving to get to and from work or running an errand, is an efficient way to relieve stress and move your body while cruising past peak hour traffic. It’s because of these many benefits that budding cyclists are choosing to saddle up.

In response to the increased popularity for biking, local councils have introduced new cycling focused infrastructures, with the New Zealand Cycle Trail leading the way. Since 2009, this government formed initiative realised their vision of creating a network of trails consisting of the Urban Cycling Network, Heartland Rides and the Great Rides. With a keen focus on making inner city commuting a safe and viable alternative to driving, the Urban Cycling Network was developed to encourage locals with this in mind.

Take A Dive

Water breathes life and fortunately for us, our land is surrounded by it. Our clean and accessible waterways are a playground that provide a natural exercise environment for all ages and abilities. With over 15,000 kilometres of coastline, 3,820 lakes and countless rivers both small and wild, you’ll be hard pressed to find a kiwi that doesn’t like getting their toes wet.

Our rivers, lakes and seas offer a fantastic means for recreational activities. Water sports range from high adrenaline activities like windsurfing, kite surfing and rafting, to more leisurely activities such as sailing, paddle boarding and swimming. The physical benefits of including regular time in or on the water can be seen in increased aerobic fitness, strength, balance and mobility. And as water is low impact, it makes for the perfect choice for people looking to exercise in a way that does not add stress to the joints.

The buoyancy of water counteracts the weight of the body with soothing and therapeutic properties suiting those with injuries, the elderly and expectant mothers. To boost confidence in the water, enquire with your local Surf Life Saving club as to what they can offer by means of workshops and water safety training. Or get involved in one of New Zealand’s many Summer Swim series. These open water races attract all levels of swimming ability from beginners through to elite swimmers, tri-athletes and even those simply wanting to get fit and stay healthy over the long hot summer. If the local pool is handy, getting a few laps in once or twice a week provides just as much of a work out, or perhaps an aqua-jogging class is your answer.

Walk It Off

The hiking in New Zealand is world class. From the Great Walks to coastal walkways, mountain ranges to forest floors, we have it all. Using this resource to improve your health and fitness is an accessible, free and fantastic way to get out and explore. Hiking to suit your ability is easy, with few restrictions on how you approach it. You can hike at any pace, elevation or distance and for any length of time (hours or days). Add a backpack for extra resistance or aid weary joints with trekking poles — hiking to your ability is easy to manage. This total body workout will strengthen leg muscles, build endurance and improve proprioception (the ability to sense the orientation of your body in the environment) whilst developing your balance.

When climbing up hill, the body utilizes a combination of muscles such as the glutes, quads and calves, much like the dreaded stair master at the gym, only less mundane. Travelling downhill, these same muscles work to stabilise the knees and ankles but with a muscular contraction that resists the force of gravity, so although your lungs no longer feel the challenge, the muscles certainly keep on working.

If getting to a trail isn’t exactly in the schedule, there are plenty of urban options — find a hill or mountain, park or beachfront, or even just some of NZ’s good suburban footpaths close to your home or work and make a walking loop out of it.

But the advantages of these outdoor pursuits don’t just extend themselves to the benefits of stretching the legs and lungs either. The nutritional gains of receiving a healthy dose of vitamin D through sensible sun exposure is necessary for the production and maintenance of our bones. New Zealand’s Ministry of Health claims around 5% of kiwis are deficient in vitamin D and a further 27% are below recommended levels. So, take a walk in the sunshine and combine your fitness gains with a healthy dose of vitamins.

Biking, swimming and walking are just some of the many ways we can move our bodies and impact our lives for the better and if the thought of joining a gym is an unappealing and unlikely one, dread not, for there are numerous outdoor options only a few steps, pedals or strokes away.

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