Hey friends, in the next 7 minutes I’m going to share a few thoughts about the benefits of outdoor recreation and leisure activities. A few months ago I tried to differentiate between physical activity and exercise, and more recently I spoke of that about the difference between exercise and training, so let’s dive into the details and see what we get!
Here’s the context for this chat: Last weekend my wife Katie and I celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary by heading to the Catskills for a weekend of rest and relaxation at Mohonk Mountain House.
Mohonk was an autumn activities wonderland, and while there we did as much as we could to take advantage of the numerous activity options: we played mini golf, walked and hiked through the woods, took archery and axe throwing classes, went out in a paddle boat, and did an amazing rock scramble.
While walking around the lake Katie and I had a conversation about what we want our lives to look like – our anniversary weekend was part celebration of our first year, part planning for our future – and one of the things that we discussed was the relationship that we want to build between nature and physical activity.
Katie and I adamantly agree that we want to do more physical activity outdoors. Remember y’all, physical activity outdoors is not the same as exercising outdoors, and it’s also not the same as training. Here’s a quick related story:
Last week I made a suggestion on Twitter in which I suggested people commute to work via bicycle. The rationale behind my suggestion was simple: Rather than driving to work then driving to the gym to exercise on a bicycle, why don’t you just make your commute count as your exercise while saving some money and reducing your carbon footprint at the same time?
The feedback that I got was that the cycling infrastructure isn’t designed for workouts, and because of the constant red lights, speed limits, or traffic, serious cyclists aren’t able to complete their structured training outside.
This is completely true, it’s hard to do serious training outside. It’s why products like Trainer Road and Zwift have become so useful for athletes. Structured workouts are essential if you’re training for an event, but they’re not necessary for the vast majority of us who are working on the deceptively challenging goal of being physically active more consistently.
I truly believe that it’s harder to train regular people with hectic and busy lives than it is to train athletes with the singular focus of improving or winning an event. If you wake up looking forward to your next workout and it’s working for you, keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re not looking forward to your workouts, maybe it’s time for a different approach.
Sure, the marketing at your local big box gym is going to tell you that you can get 25 hour per day access for 8 days per week, and that you’ll get PAID to exercise because of health insurance reimbursements. And that might work for some of us, but if you hate slogging away on the treadmill while watching Nailed It on Netflix, I doubt that will be very motivating for you.
Instead, why not seek out the activities that fill you with a sense of wonder, joy, and inspiration? Sure, I might sound like a Pinterest page about manifesting what you want in life, but I’m serious:
If you don’t want to hear cliches yelled at you during spin class, ride a bike around your neighborhood. If you don’t want to puke in your mouth while setting PR’s on the rower, why not take a rowboat out in your local lake? New Yorkers, you can pretty easily do it in Central Park!
This isn’t even the part of this piece where I tell you to come to Mark Fisher Fitness and do some swings and push-ups with us because they’re really good for you. They are really good for you, and our design team has some of the most progressive programming in all of adult fitness, but some people just don’t like this style of training, and that’s okay!
In the overall arc of the art of human experience, suffering through a workout that you don’t enjoy, regardless of the scientific validity of it, might not be the best option for your overall mental and social health. If you’re trudging away on a treadmill or trudging away during Ninja Essentials, you’re still trudging away, and no matter what I’m here to help – let’s find something fun for you!
I know that Winter Is Coming to those of us in the northern hemisphere, but this is literally my favorite season to take advantage of getting outside and enjoying nature. The leaves are changing and the air is crisp and cool, and activities as simple as a walk around the block might open your eyes to new people, places, and things in your neighborhood.
Exercise is an experience as much as it’s a science, and it isn’t simply about metabolic adaptations, but about how you feel before, during, and after the activity.
If you’re training for an event, follow your training plan. If you’re not, consider how your current approach to physical activity makes you feel. Do you anticipate workouts or do you dread them? Does working hard feel empowering or like a punishment? Do you have a network of people with a shared purpose? These are all important questions to consider that go beyond heart rate zones and progressive overload, because the answers to these questions can fundamentally change your relationship with physical activity!
While Katie and I were at Mohonk, we were part of a community that was bound by shared sounds. The sounds of wind in the trees, splashing water in the lake, leaves crunching beneath our feet – and laughter. People were laughing while being physically active! When I consume some of the other fitness content here on the internet, I’m not sure how much of that I see!
If you’re seeking a special formula, I’m not sure that there is one – each of us have different goals and desires, and the best way to discover what works for you is to find people to play with and places to play in. At the end of her incredible book, The Nature Fix, Florence Williams concludes:
“Distilling what I learned, I came up with a kind of ultrasimple coda: Go outside, often, sometimes in wild places. Bring friends or not. Breathe.”
Those words are the starting point on our experiential compass, and the next step is exploring what options are the most meaningful to you.
Whatever it is, it’s time to get started. If you need help with that, I’m only a message away. I’d love to continue the conversation, so leave a comment or send me a message.
Thanks for joining me for this article. If you’d like to watch a video of this piece, you can find it below or on Instagram. Thanks y’all!