Why You Should Exercise Outdoors—and the Best Activities on Land & Water

Exercising in the great outdoors—with the wind in your hair and the sun shining on your (SPF-covered) face—beats the gym hands down. Here are our favorite outdoor exercises to keep you and your family entertained and fit all summer long.

 


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Scuba Diving

scuba diving

Photo by Travis Burke @travisburkephotography

Photo by Travis Burke @travisburkephotography

Transport yourself to a whole new world below the surface of the water while you work your body from head to toe. Whether you face a small shark head-on or explore a shipwreck, you’ll emerge awestruck and with newfound confidence, says Kristin Valette Wirth, chief marketing and business development officer for PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Worldwide. These next-level encounters are more accessible than you think. The PADI Discover Scuba Diving program is offered across the country and teaches the basics to adults and kids 10 and older. Or consider kicking things up a notch with the PADI Basic Freediver course. 

Alternative 
If you prefer keeping your head above the water try snorkeling or open-water swimming.

“To dive well you have to be calm, so for me diving is an underwater meditation. No distractions, no phones, just me in my body—it’s a wonderful reset. Most of all, I love the feeling of being weightless, exploring a world that is so foreign and impossibly beautiful.” — @chelseakauai, Chelsea Yamase, PADI AmbassaDiver

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Obstacle Racing

outdoor fitness obstacle racing

Photo courtesy of CLIF

Photo courtesy of CLIF

“We all get stronger when we push ourselves out of the comfort of our routines and rise to challenges,” says Eric Botsford, Tough Mudder Bootcamp head coach. Obstacle races test endurance, strength and agility. (Expect climbing  walls, spinning monkey bars and anywhere from 3 to 10+ miles of course.) Depending on how hard you push, you could torch upwards of 750 calories per hour. Some companies, like Tough Mudder, have team-based fun runs. Other races, like Warrior Dash, are geared toward people who want to go it alone. Either way, hit the starting line prepared: Search your local area for training bootcamps that will fire up muscles and boost your confidence. And check the age restrictions (most don’t allow kids under 10). To find a race near you, go to mudrunguide.com.

Alternative
Make training more of a family affair—check out fun runs like The Color Run or the 5K Foam Fest.

“If you can’t find a kid-friendly obstacle race near you, playgrounds provide wonderful opportunities to run, jump, climb and swing around together. Children love it and adults get to sneak in a fun workout.” — @runningrosie, Rose Wetzel, obstacle course racer and CLIF Bar athlete

Also see: How to Choose the Right Mosquito Repellent for Your Family


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outdoor fitness hiking

Photo by Holly Johnson

Photo by Holly Johnson

Whether you’re craving an incredible view, total-body exercise or the satisfaction of summiting a mountain, hiking delivers. (A 155-pound person will burn more than 200 calories in just 30 minutes!) Stepping around boulders and across streams also works your core better than a treadmill. “Plus, it can be done at almost any skill level for free—or close to it,” says Liz Thomas, author of Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-Hike, who first hiked as a kid with her family. She suggests checking out local parks and nature reserves. Depending on where your trek takes you, your dog can come along too! Find a nearby trail at alltrails.com.

Alternative 
Don’t rule out an “urban hike” through your city to explore an unfamiliar neighborhood. Just slip on your sneaks, pick up the pace and don’t avoid any hills!

“In some ways, hiking is like listening to a great song. It just touches you emotionally in ways you can’t explain. There is nothing like the view from the top of a mountain, or looking down at the trailhead and seeing how far you’ve come.” —@missholldoll, Holly Johnson, hiker


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SUP Yoga

outdoor fitness sup yoga

Photo by Black Pearl Photography

Photo by Black Pearl Photography

Yoga is great for boosting total-body strength and increasing mindfulness, but perform those moves atop a board floating on a lake, river or ocean and it’s also exciting. On a stand-up paddleboard (SUP), even seemingly easy poses that you ace on land will challenge your coordination and stability. It’s totally OK to fall into the water once…or multiple times. “SUP yoga allows us to figure out our strengths and weaknesses, and invites us to be completely present in each pose,” says Kimberly Ghorai, manager of Meta Yoga Studios in Breckenridge, CO. You’ll swim away with a more powerful mind, body and on-the-mat practice. There’s no national SUP yoga organization, but llbean.com and rei.com both offer classes.

Alternative 
If you’d rather stay on solid ground, take advantage of the shore with a beach yoga class.

“Most of the time kids have more fun than adults because they’re not worried—and they think falling in is fun—so I encourage my students to bring out their inner child. Taking a yoga class on land beforehand also helps because then you have an idea of the poses and are ready to go on the board.” —@seavibesyoga, Jaysea DeVoe, youngest certified SUP teacher in the U.S.

Related: The Best Swimsuits for Every Body Type


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Ultimate

outdoor fitness ultimate

Photo by Tina Tran for USA Ultimate

Photo by Tina Tran for USA Ultimate

It’s time to ditch any notions that tossing a Frisbee is boring. Ultimate requires players to score points by catching the disc in the opposing team’s end zone, like in football. The result: a game that will make you run, jump and, depending on your family’s Frisbee skills, laugh. “Learning to throw and catch a disc is easy and exciting, and if you love to sprint, nothing feels better than chasing down a floating Frisbee,” says 2016 Ultimate Hall of Fame inductee Amy Wilbur. All you need to get started is a disc and a patch of land—a small open area is fine for newbies because the tosses are easier to complete and the sprinting distances are shorter, says Wilbur. Visit usaultimate.org to read up on the rules. 

Alternative 
If Ultimate isn’t your family’s speed, try soccer or kickball. You’ll still be spending time together while working up a sweat.

“I love Ultimate because you can make of it whatever you want. Whether you prefer to play casually or compete at a high level, there are opportunities across the country.” —@taquitopi, Octavia Payne, USA Ultimate national team player 


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The Best Footwear for Each Activity

Outdoor Fitness footwear

SCUBA Diving
Aqua Lung Wind Fins, amazon.com, $60

Obstacle Racing
Under Armour Horizon STR 1.5, underarmour.com, $90

Hiking
Altra Lone Peak 3.5, altrarunning.com, $120

SUP Yoga
Speedo Fathom AQ, speedousa.com, $80

Ultimate
Brooks Launch 5, brooksrunning.com, $100


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Protect You and Your Family from the Elements

woman drinking water outdoors

Photo by Willow Street Pictures/DarrenModricker

Photo by Willow Street Pictures/DarrenModricker

Push fluids
Drink 3 to 8 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes while exercising outdoors, says James Ting, MD, a sports medicine specialist at Hoag Orthopedic Institute. He recommends a beverage that contains electrolytes, like coconut water, if you’re outside sweating for more than 45 minutes.

Beware the heat
While heatstroke can happen to anyone, kids are most at risk. “Their bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults’ do,” says Shoba Srikantan, MD, a pediatric critical care physician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. Watch for fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, cramps or chills.

Cover up
Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure and then at least every two hours plus after hopping out of the water, even if it’s “waterproof.” Related: Everything You Need to Know About Sunscreen

Pack a first-aid kit
Don’t forget bandages, antibiotic ointment and any meds your family might need away from home.