This blog post contains some affiliate links to products you may find useful, at no extra costs to you. All opinions are my own.
Would you love to improve your fitness, strength and flexibility too? Depending on where you live, late Spring to early Autumn can be a great time to naturally get your outdoor exercise in – even if you’re chronically ill.
Compared to working out in the gym, outdoor exercising has some unique benefits. Not only are you moving your body, but safely exposing yourself to sunshine supports the production of vitamin D, necessary for strong bones and good mental health. What’s more, catching natural daylight – especially in the morning – fine tunes your internal body clock and helps you sleep better at night. Spending time in nature also lowers your blood pressure, boosts your immunity and eases mental fatigue. And of course, getting some fresh air cleans your lungs and energizes you.
The great news is, you don’t have to be super fit and athletic to get these health perks. You can adapt outdoor exercises for most energy levels. Sure, you won’t be able to go on a hike when you’re bed bound, and there are obstacles to overcome when exercising with chronic illness. You need to plan for rest afterwards and recovery days. You probably have to be more mindful about the heat and staying hydrated. Maybe you have to rely on mobility aids or practical support from family and friends.
A lot of what’s possible for you depends on your health, living situation and overall mobility. Not all the ideas mentioned will be doable for every body. Just take inspiration from the outdoor exercises below, adapt where necessary and listen to your body. And it’s always wise to consult your doctor before starting exercising again.
With these notes in mind, take a look at these 10 spoonie-proof ways to move your body outdoors.
Walking is the most natural way to move your body. Even in our sedentary society, being able to move around on foot makes it so much easier to go places, shop for groceries or do something fun. That’s why walk training can be an excellent place to improve your fitness level and quality of life.
Of course, you can simply head to the post office or nearest bus stop to get your daily steps in. But if you’re bored with walking the same block around the neighborhood, here are some adjustable ideas to make your walks more fun:
- If you barely make it to the end of the street, see if you can find a comfortable seating spot within walking distance. Bring a magazine or cross word puzzle, so you can still get all the benefits of spending some time outdoors.
- Go to a park, botanical garden or nearby forest for a natural mindfulness walk. Take advantage of having to stroll slowly and pay attention to the beauty of nature. Feel the breeze on your skin, smell the flowers, trees or freshly cut grass, and notice all the colours and sounds around you.
- More a city girl or guy? Check out ‘walk and dine’ tours in your area. Not only is that a fun way to socialize and discover new restaurants, stopping at each place for a new course gives you the breaks you probably need during a longer walk.
- Play Pokémon Go or try geocaching to have an intriguing goal for your walk.
- Do a walking bingo or go on a nature treasure with your kids. If you’re real nature lovers, you could also bring a grabber to pick up litter in your area.
- Going solo? Listen to a podcast or audiobooks to keep your mind entertained.
- If you’re relatively fit and love ambitious projects, you could try a virtual fitness challenge, like walking the distance of the Inca Trail or ‘hiking’ Mount Kilimanjaro.
Check out more spoonie-proof walking tips in ‘How to Work Your Way Up to Walking 10,000 Steps a Day’.
What’s nicer than floating in the water on a warm day? And the good news is, swimming can be a great physical activity for chronic illness.
Research shows that regular water-based exercising can be helpful when you’re struggling with asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease and diabetes. Thanks to the water, there’s little impact on your joints, while still working your entire body. So if you want to strengthen your heart and increase your lung volume without putting strain on your bones, consider taking the plunge – literally. Besides swimming, aqua yoga is another outdoor exercise suitable for various fitness levels.
One warning: If you’re not physically fit, make sure you don’t go too deep into natural bodies of waters and be extra careful of the currents.
3. Mindfulness in Motion
Who says you can only do mind-body exercises in a studio? Take your gorgeous yoga mat outside and practice your warrior poses and seated twists under the blue sky.
Mindfulness in motion refers to flowing movement combined with awareness of your body and focus on your breathing. That makes this kind of exercising a good fit for people with health problems.
If you don’t have a private garden, don’t worry about being stared at. After a year of COVID – restrictions, most people are used to seeing bootcamp classes in the park or outdoor gyms. Maybe you can even find an outdoor yoga class you can join? You could also take up tai chi in the park or do a simple walking meditation.
What’s not to love about cycling? It’s a fun and casual outdoor activity that actually gets you places. Here in the Netherlands, we go everywhere by bike, from picking up groceries to commuting. The fact that our country is flat, small and has bike lanes in most streets obviously helps.
But no matter where you live, riding your bike makes a great outdoor exercise. Cycling is a low-impact aerobic activity that boosts your heart health and builds muscle strength, even if you cycle at a relaxed pace.
If you’d like to get back in the (bicycle) saddle again, start with easy routes: little elevation, not too much traffic and on cycle paths if possible. Make sure you pace yourself so you have enough energy to make it back home safely. You could also consider training on a stationery bike first or get an e-bike to make pedaling easier.
For more advice on jumping back on your bike again, read ‘11 Tips for Getting Back to Cycling with Health Problems’.
5. Family Fun and Active Socializing
A workout doesn’t have to feel like a workout. Children still have this natural ability to move their bodies all day long, without ever feeling they’re exercising. So take a leaf from their book and actively play with your family and friends.
Join your kids on the monkey bars, have a water fight, build sand castles or play a ball game. When you don’t have the energy or mobility for that, maybe low-impact activities midget golf and flying a kit are easier on your lungs and joints. You could also kick a ball around while you’re seated, or throw a frisbee from your picnic blanket and let your kids do the running. All these little movements do add up over time, plus you get to join in on some family fun.
The same goes for friends and romance. Instead of meeting over drinks, choose a fun outdoor activity (if you’re able to of course). Whether you enjoy taking a dip in the lake, visiting a flea market, admiring outdoor art installations of picking your own fruit, there’s something for almost any fitness level. Remember, you can make your socializing as active as you can handle, take breaks when needed and stop when (or even better, before) you start experiencing symptoms.
Did you love the trampoline as a kid? It turns out, that all that jumping around actually has a lot of health benefits, even for adults.
Bouncing on a mini trampoline strengthens your muscles, bones and heart health, while being easy on your joints. What’s more, the up-and-down movement of rebounding stimulates your lymphatic system, which carries toxins and waste products out of the body. So if you want to support the detoxification of your body, consider gently bouncing on a mini trampoline for a few minutes a day.
What better outdoor exercise than gardening? It’s a mindful activity you can do at your own pace, that lowers stress, boosts your mood and supports good immunity. And according to the Blue Zones research among the longest living people on earth, gardening even promotes longevity. Pretty cool for a hobby, right?
So head outside and get your hands in the soil. You can start small with a few low-maintenance plants or herbs, perhaps in a raised garden bed to limit kneeling and bending. If you’re worried about increasing pain and fatigue, these 15 tips for gardening with chronic pain can help out.
8. Lawn Sports
To stay in the garden, let’s have an afternoon of fun with lawn ‘sports’. Transport yourself to the south of France with an elegant game of jeu de boules, or get fancy with croquet. Or maybe you’re more into Kubb, playing badminton or building a Giant Tumbling Tower. Whatever you enjoy!
Sure, playing lawn sports isn’t an intense outdoor exercise, but it’s an accessible form of movement for most energy levels. And you get to socialize in an active way, which does wonders for both your body, mind and soul.
Also, you can retreat to the shade and take a seat in between games whenever you need to. And if you don’t have an outdoor space, you can bring your backyard games over to your friends’ house, the park or camp site.
9. Backyard Bootcamp
Of course, you can take your more formal workout outside too. Turn your backyard into a bootcamp by doing your usual squats and lunges out on the patio, or roll out a beach towel to stretch on the grass.
If you’re able to, jumping rope boosts both your heart health and your bone strength in just a few minutes a day. You could also give hula hooping a go to work those abs. A resistance band can be another useful tool for strength training with chronic illness.
You do have to do a full-body circuit to start exercising with chronic illness. Simply start with a short warm-up, followed by one or more outdoor exercises training your lower body, core and upper body. Do as many (or as little) reps as you feel comfortable with, with enough breaks in between.
It can be really helpful to ask a physiotherapist or certified trainer for advice on which exercises would be best for your specific health situation.
10. Intense Outdoor Exercises
If you’re relatively fit and mobile, there are so many fun outdoor exercises for you to try. What about going for a hike in nature, trail running or rock climbing?
When you love being on the water, you could go snorkeling, kayaking or stand up paddling. If you can handle more explosive, high-impact sports, tennis, beach volleyball and rollerblading are all enjoyable ways to move your body.
It doesn’t really matter if you’re able to go for a jog or can only walk around the block – the combination of movement, fresh air, sunshine and natural surroundings will support your health and happiness. Even small bursts of outdoor exercising can subtly boost your energy, mood and mental focus.
Do you like to move your body outdoors? How do you adapt outdoor exercises to suit your energy levels?
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like: