By Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist
If you started a fitness program at the beginning of the year, this is a good time to evaluate your progress and try new exercises. Even if you are a long time exerciser, it’s always a good idea to add variety to your workouts. Summer is a great time to try something new. The kids are out of school, so your schedule may have changed, making it difficult to get to the gym. Or maybe your exercise routine is becoming, well, routine. Here are some suggestions to break out of your fitness doldrums and add new life to your exercise program this summer.
Take it outdoors >>
If you have been exercising indoors, summer is a perfect time to move your workouts outdoors. The days are longer, so there are more hours of daylight in the morning and evening to exercise. This is good, because it tends to be cooler at those times allowing you to avoid the hottest part of the day.
If you have been walking or jogging on a treadmill or riding an exercise bike at the gym, moving outdoors may give you additional fitness and health benefits. First, you may get a better workout, due to hills and wind resistance and because you are likely to go at a higher intensity. Second, exercise outdoors can have psychological benefits including enhanced feelings of energy and improved mood compared to exercise indoors.
Even if you don’t take your exercise routine outdoors, you can still use the extra hours of daylight to be active. Taking your dog for a walk in the morning or going for a family bike ride in the evening are great ways for you and your family to get the physical and mental health benefits of activity outdoors.
Hit the gym >>
The hot and humid summer weather, especially in the South, may be a disincentive to exercise outdoors. This is a perfect time to join a gym, giving you a chance to try new exercises, including resistance training and group exercise classes.
Most fitness centers have a wide variety of equipment and classes, so you are bound to find something that you will enjoy. If you are new to exercise, the staff can show you how to properly use the equipment and many gyms offer personal training services, too. A good personal trainer can provide instruction and motivation to get you started on a fitness program, especially if you are unfamiliar with different types of exercise.
Exercise classes are a great way to try new types of exercise in a dynamic group setting. Many classes combine strength, aerobic, and flexibility exercises so you can get a complete workout in one session. Of course, joining a gym can be expensive, so you should be careful that you are paying for services you will actually use. But that cost may provide added motivation to exercise.
Dive in >>
Almost nothing feels better on a hot summer day than going for a swim. Beyond being a fun way to cool down, swimming is a great way to get in shape. Since swimming is a whole-body exercise it uses all of your major muscle groups, building strength, endurance, and aerobic fitness. Aquatic exercise is also recommended for people who have arthritis, osteoporosis, severe obesity, or who are recovering from injuries. When you are in the water, much of your body weight is supported, reducing the impact of exercise.
Swimming is a great way to burn calories, too. Even at a moderate pace, swimming laps for 30 minutes can burn over 200 calories. The exact energy expenditure depends on the stroke (butterfly is highest, backstroke is lowest) and the speed, but most people will burn as many calories swimming as spending the same amount of time exercising on land.
Exercise in the water doesn’t have to mean swimming laps. Activities such as water aerobics, aqua walking or jogging, and resistance training using foam “weights” or webbed gloves offer safe ways to increase strength and endurance for almost everyone. Even if you aren’t specifically exercising, spending time in a pool or lake is a great way to keep cool while being active.
Common Sense Guidelines
Exercise outdoors in the heat is safe as long as you are aware of the environmental conditions and prepare appropriately. This includes proper hydration before, during, and after exercise. You should drink plenty of water throughout the day so you start your workout well hydrated. During exercise, let thirst be your guide – drink when you are thirsty.