The weather is beautiful. Not too hot, not too cold. The sun is shining, and a nice breeze is blowing. So instead of sweating it out on the treadmill at the gym, you opt to take your exercise routine outdoors.
Whether you’re hiking a mountain, marathon training, or just taking your pup for a walk, exercising outside has a lot of advantages. For starters, outdoor workouts are just more enjoyable because they feel less routine. You also breathe better air, burn more calories, and soak up more Vitamin D.
While the rewards of outdoor exercise are many, there are also some risks associated with working out outside. From heat exhaustion to wild animal encounters, you’ll be exposed to potential hazards you’d never encounter at the gym. The good news is, these rare-but-real threats to your health and safety can usually be avoided with a little common sense and preparation.
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take extreme temperatures to make you ill. You can experience heat exhaustion, dehydration, and other weather-related ailments even when conditions are relatively mild. Warm, humid weather, for example, makes it more difficult for your body to cool itself via sweating and therefore can be just as dangerous as hotter, dry weather. As a general rule, be sure you have plenty to drink before, during, and after your workout. Plain water is fine for workouts up to an hour. For longer workouts, pack sports drinks to replenish your electrolytes and carbohydrates. Additionally, you should wear sunscreen and eye protection even on cloudy days to protect yourself from the sun’s UV rays.
Unlike the equipment at the gym, Mother Nature doesn’t come with instructions or warning labels. Hills, trails, and varying terrain may make for a more interesting workout, but pushing yourself past your limits puts you at a greater risk of injury. That’s why it’s important to honestly assess your fitness level and pick an activity that fits. Do your research, either on the internet or by talking with area outdoor enthusiasts, to find courses and trails that match your skill level. And don’t hesitate to start slowly. Once you know what your body is capable of, you can always choose a more challenging workout.
Whether it’s a deer traipsing across the path or a chorus of birds singing overhead, encounters with wildlife are usually one of the best parts about outdoor exercise. But, depending on where you live, you may risk running into something a little more intimidating like a snake, bear, or coyote. For that reason, you should pay close attention to your surroundings and always carry some form of protection (think bear spray). If you usually take your dog with you when you work out, you should be extra careful. While wild animals will usually steer clear of humans, they are more likely to attack other animals, including your four-legged running buddy. If you do encounter a dangerous animal, stay calm, try to look as large and menacing as possible, and make lots of noise.
On top of protecting your body from the elements, you should also take care to ensure your personal safety… especially if you choose to go it alone. First and foremost, know where you’re going. Pick a familiar route, and tell a family member or friend where you’ll be and how long you’ll be gone. Wear bright, reflective clothing that makes you stand out from your surroundings, and invest in some form of wearable identification. You should also take your cell phone, but don’t use your headphones. Pay attention to your surroundings with all your senses, and if something doesn’t feel right, call someone and head to a safe place right away.
In truth, the rewards of an outdoor workout outweigh the risks. These scenarios, while rare, do happen so it’s important to be prepared. If you do encounter one of these circumstances, you will be able to respond quickly and efficiently. But even if you never need to use your action plan, you’ll still enjoy the peace of mind that comes along with having one.
By James SwannOriginally from Sheffield, James lives and works in the mountain bike mecca that is the Lake District and has been falling off bikes since he was six. In between working on bike events, riding bikes, racing bikes and writing about bikes he enjoys talking about bikes with anyone who will listen. He really likes bikes.