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Indoor vs. Outdoor Exercise [Not all exercise is created equal, so says the research]

Posted Mar 06 2011 9:00pm

There I was, loping blissfully through a beautiful meadow of knee-high grass, sunshine pouring down on me and butterflies, bunnies and dolphins keeping me company. Okay, maybe not the dolphins. But truly, I was the Athleta Catalog Girl.


It was a beautiful summer morning and I was doing one of my favorite trail runs around a lake near my house. Inhaling the fresh air (and ignoring how bad my allergies were going to act up later - allergies that I did not have, I might add, until I got pregnant the first time), I was overcome with a feeling of well-being and gratitude for the great outdoors (and also, for waterproof sunscreen). All was sweatily perfect.

Until I got home. After making myself breakfast, playing with the kids and doing some chores, I finally decided to jump in the shower. Which was when all H-E-double hockey sticks broke lose. As I went down to shave my legs, I saw what I first thought was a mole. A strange mole that had popped up overnight? Oh, and look - there's another one. And another. Then the realization dawned on me: I am infested with blood-sucking, disease-carrying, creepy-crawling TICKS.

Mother Nature, you two-faced WITCH!

While I had been happily re-enacting my favorite tampon commercial, she was getting me to bleed in an entirely different manner! And for those of you who have never been bit by a tick, I didn't feel it when they chomped me because they release a bit of anesthetic so that I didn't notice them until they were engorged with my ultra-healthy grade-A running-oxygenated blood.

I did what any reasonable person in my situation would do. I screamed. My husband came running into the bathroom to find me trying to say in my calmest voice, "Dearest, please grab the tweezers and rid me of these vermin." What came out instead was closer to, "EEEEEKKKK! I have TICKS! In my LEGS! I'm going to die of LYME DISEASE! Kill them! KILL THEM!!!" After which I proceeded to do the heebie-jeebie dance while he did his best Boy Scout maneuvers to pull them out of me. (Note: the latest recommendation for removing ticks is to take tweezers and pull them firmly up and out of the skin. You're not supposed to burn them out with matches or suffocate them out by pouring oil or butter over them anymore although frankly those methods sound a lot more exciting.)

He's a good man. Not once did the phrase "like wrestling an oiled pig" leave his lips. Once the ticks were out of my legs the fun had just begun because ticks don't die when you pull them out and also you can't squish them. They have a very hard exoskeleton which means you have to really crush them to kill them. We chose to use nail clippers and snap the suckers in half. This was mind-boggling for two reasons: first, have you tried catching a bug with nail clippers? It makes Mr. Miyagi's chopsticks-fly trick look passé. Second, when you effectively smush a tick all the blood they've been drinking comes squirting out like a stepped-on a Gusher fruit snack.

So gross.

The rest of the day was spent Googling pictures of ticks to see if I'd been eaten by a deer tick or a dog tick (only the former carry Lyme disease) and leaving hysterical messages on my doctor's voice mail.

While I still love a great outdoor workout, I spend most of my time exercising indoors. And truthfully the reason for that is only minimally because of the the Great Tick Fiasco - that just makes such a better story than my real reason: Mother Nature does not provide childcare. And no, dingoes don't count.

Oh sure there are lots of ways to exercise outdoors with your kids - Monkey Bar Gym it while they monkey bar, jump rope or run laps around their soccer field during practice (ignore the looks from the other parents, they're just jealous of your dedication to setting a healthy example), or even put the little dears in a jogging stroller and hit the trails (do they make a 4-seater?) - but all of them ignore the fact that I workout every day to get away from my kids. I need a break. I need adults to talk to. I need equipment that hasn't been snottified. (All right that last one's iffy at my gym.)

Besides the kiddos, there are other reasons why I usually end up doing my workouts inside:

- Weather variation: I hate being cold. I also hate being too hot. I'm a wuss, I know. My Y is always sweltering no matter what time of year it is but at least I'm not surprised and can dress accordingly.

- Equipment: While there are lots of folks who improvise weight lifting workouts with rocks, logs, abandoned car parts and the occasional wild animal, sometimes it's just nice to know that all the dumbbells will be where I expect them to, even if they're not in numerical order.

But hey - indoors, outdoors, does it matter? At least I'm getting exercise! Alas science, as is its wont, likes to prove me wrong. A meta-analysis of existing studies on indoor and outdoor exercise concluded,
"The study found that most trials showed an improvement in mental well-being: compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression. Participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and stated that they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date."
Plus - and the researchers didn't explicitly say this but I know they were thinking it - you get a much better view. Does anyone remember the days before individual TVs on treadmills? You either had to stare at a wall, a mirror or someone else's butt while you put in your miles. Now at least you can stare at celebrities' butts while you put in your miles. Anyhow, there's a reason they call it the dreadmill. Creepy crawlies and everything I'd much rather do a long run outside than in. Unless it's under 50 degrees and then no dice.

Do you workout more indoors or outdoors? Why? Have you ever had to pull a tick out? What's the view like from your treadmill?

Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2011. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!
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