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Outdoor exercises to bust you out of your gym rut

Kathy A. Johnson is a freelance writer and editor in central Florida. Her work has appeared online and in print publications ranging from Mothers & More Forum to Horse Journal.

Get out! Get moving!

If the treadmill or gym is your best friend when it comes to getting fit, consider taking it outside. In addition to fitness benefits, outdoor activity boosts mood and self-esteem, according to a University of Essex study published in Environmental Science and Technology. Outdoor exercise also offers a change of pace and scenery, and can even keep you motivated to stick to an exercise plan. Best yet, outdoor exercise is F-U-N! Here are our top outdoor exercises to bust you out of your gym rut.

Couple Nordic Walking

Walking/Running

Probably the simplest and cheapest outdoor workout is walking or running. To spice it up, try Nordic walking (walking briskly using poles similar to ski poles), or find a walking or running trail with exercise stations placed in strategic positions. Walk or jog to each station and follow the instructions to get a fat-blasting total body workout.

Cycling

Dust off your bike and explore your locale while peddling off mega calories and toning your lower body. If you don't want to ride in traffic, seek out your community's dedicated bike trails. If your city doesn't have bike trails, stop in at your local bike shop for advice about where to ride (and to try out a bike if you don't already have one). You can also visit Rails to Trails to see if a former rail line trail is near you.

Team sports

Do you prefer to be with others while exercising? Tennis, soccer and basketball can provide the camaraderie you seek while you get fit and improve your agility and reaction time. Check local recreation centers or the Web for more information about where to play in your area. Team sports on a court or grassy field are far more fun and effective than simulated video games on the exercise machine console.

Hiking

Hiking provides a great change of pace and works your cardiovascular system as well as your lower body. A good pair of hiking shoes is a must, and be sure to choose trails that are appropriate for your skill level. Check out Trails.com for trails in your area, or check in with an outdoor sports shop for hiking tips.

Water sports

If the weather's warm enough, water sports such as swimming, deep-water running and aqua fitness classes can be great workouts. If you live near a large body of water, you can experiment with plenty of other sports, too. Why not try kayaking, rowing, surfing, sailboarding or water skiing?

Boot camp classes

Another outdoor fitness option is a boot camp class. These intense workouts, which include calisthenics and interval training, improve your cardiovascular and muscular fitness while boosting your body confidence. Get through a boot camp class, and you can get through anything. These classes are springing up all over, so check one out for a tough but fun change of pace.

Outdoor safety

Working out in the great outdoors can raise some health and safety issues. For instance, if you live in a big city, you might have to be wary of air pollution. Check air quality and forecasts, and exercise early in the morning or in the evening (pollution levels are usually lower then). If you suffer from any chronic health conditions, please check with your doctor before starting an outdoor exercise program.

Be prepared

Be aware of weather conditions. Dress in light layers, wear sunscreen and stay hydrated. If you choose to hike or go trail running, learn how to handle a close encounter with area wildlife, and don't wander off the trail. If you're a biker, always wear a helmet, and learn the rules of the road, as well as some basic bike repair skills in case of a problem.

One of the best things about outdoor exercise is that it often doesn't feel like exercise. So whether you hit the hiking trail or bike path, or simply take a walk around the block, you'll be torching calories, toning up, and connecting with the great outdoors without getting stuck in the all-too-common gym rut.

More outdoor fitness ideas:

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