Why Spring Is the Perfect Time to Take Your Workout Outdoors

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When the weather thaws, the plants bloom and the days get longer, it’s spring—and the best time of the year to take your fitness regimen outside. Here are six research-backed perks of al fresco exercise.

You work harder

When people exercise outside, they tend to spend more time doing it. One study found that older people who were active outdoors did at least 30 minutes more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week than those who only did it inside. It also made them feel healthier. “Nothing makes you feel more childlike than being outdoors,” says Dr. Pamela Peeke, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and author of Fit to Live. “You’re modulating stress hormones, increasing endorphins and increasing the secretion of serotonin,” she says, so your mood brightens.

Being in nature lowers blood pressure

Spending time outside is also good for the heart. A recent study estimated that nearly 10% of people with high blood pressure could get their levels under control if they spent at least 30 minutes in a park each week, partly because of the heart-related benefits of getting fresh air and lowering stress. In Japan, public health experts recommend people spend time walking outdoors, a practice called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. Researchers in Japan have linked forest bathing with lower levels of the blood pressure-raising stress hormone, cortisol.

It spurs cancer-fighting cells

Some research suggests that when people are in nature, they inhale aromatic compounds from plants called phytoncides. These can increase their number of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that supports the immune system and is linked with a lower risk of cancer. These cells are also believed to be important in fighting infections and inflammation, a common marker of disease.

In one study, researchers found that people who took a long walk through a forest for two days in a row increased their natural killer cells by 50% and the activity of these cells by 56%. Those activity levels also remained 23% higher than usual for the month following those walks.

It can feel more fun

When people exercise outside, they feel better and enjoy the exercise more, studies suggest. “Enjoyment is an important pathway to the mental health impacts of physical activity,” says Rebecca Lovell, a research fellow at the University of Exeter in the UK. Exercising outside is also a great alternative for those who don’t want to go to the gym.

A review of research found that people who exercised outside reported feeling more revitalized, engaged and energized than those who did it indoors. The researchers also found that people who exercised outside felt less tension, anger and depression.

Your mental health may improve improve

Nature has a way of making people feel calm, and exercising outside can strengthen that effect. A small 2015 study found that people who walked for 90 minutes outside were less likely to ruminate on their problems and had less activity in the brain area linked to depression, compared to people who took similar walks but in urban areas. “Nature becomes a major distraction from all the stresses of life,” says Peeke.

You save money

Exercising outdoors is not only convenient, but it’s less expensive than a gym membership. It also cuts costs for the community. A recent study in England of “green exercises”—those done outside, including dog walking, running, horseback riding and mountain biking—estimated that the health benefits of doing physical activity in nature can save around $2.7 billion a year. “All you need is the right pair of shoes, and you can exercise on your own time,” says Peeke.

By Alexandra Sifferlin for Time Health

Lessons on Aging Well, From a 105-Year-Old Cyclist

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Robert Marchand, age 105, in Paris on Jan. 5, 2017, a day after setting a new one-hour cycling record.

At the age of 105, the French amateur cyclist and world-record holder Robert Marchand is more aerobically fit than most 50-year-olds — and appears to be getting even fitter as he ages, according to a revelatory new study of his physiology. The study, which appeared in December in the Journal of Applied Physiology, may help to rewrite scientific expectations of how our bodies age and what is possible for any of us athletically, no matter how old we are.

Many people first heard of Mr. Marchand last month, when he set a world record in one-hour cycling, an event in which someone rides as many miles as possible on an indoor track in 60 minutes. Mr. Marchand pedaled more than 14 miles, setting a global benchmark for cyclists age 105 and older. That classification had to be created specifically to accommodate him. No one his age previously had attempted the record.

Mr. Marchand, who was born in 1911, already owned the one-hour record for riders age 100 and older, which he had set in 2012. It was as he prepared for that ride that he came to the attention of Veronique Billat, a professor of exercise science at the University of Evry-Val d’Essonne in France. At her lab, Dr. Billat and her colleagues study and train many professional and recreational athletes.

She was particularly interested in Mr. Marchand’s workout program and whether altering it might augment his endurance and increase his speed. Conventional wisdom in exercise science suggests that it is very difficult to significantly add to aerobic fitness after middle age. In general, VO2max, a measure of how well our bodies can use oxygen and the most widely accepted scientific indicator of fitness, begins to decline after about age 50, even if we frequently exercise.

But Dr. Billat had found that if older athletes exercised intensely, they could increase their VO2 max. She had never tested this method on a centenarian, however. But Mr. Marchand was amenable. A diminutive 5 feet in height and weighing about 115 pounds, he said he had not exercised regularly during most of his working life as a truck driver, gardener, firefighter and lumberjack. But since his retirement, he had begun cycling most days of the week, either on an indoor trainer or the roads near his home in suburban Paris.

Almost all of this mileage was completed at a relatively leisurely pace. Dr. Billat upended that routine. But first, she and her colleagues brought Mr. Marchand into the university’s human performance lab. They tested his VO2 max, heart rate and other aspects of cardiorespiratory fitness. All were healthy and well above average for someone of his age. He also required no medications.

He then went out and set the one-hour world record for people 100 years and older, covering about 14 miles. Afterward, Dr. Billat had him begin a new training regimen. Under this program, about 80 percent of his weekly workouts were performed at an easy intensity, the equivalent of a 12 or less on a scale of 1 to 20, with 20 being almost unbearably strenuous according to Mr. Marchand’s judgment. He did not use a heart rate monitor.

The other 20 percent of his workouts were performed at a difficult intensity of 15 or above on the same scale. For these, he was instructed to increase his pedaling frequency to between 70 and 90 revolutions per minute, compared to about 60 r.p.m. during the easy rides. (A cycling computer supplied this information.) The rides rarely lasted more than an hour. Mr. Marchand followed this program for two years. Then he attempted to best his own one-hour track world record.

First, however, Dr. Billat and her colleagues remeasured all of the physiological markers they had tested two years before. Mr. Marchand’s VO2 max was now about 13 percent higher than it had been before, she found, and comparable to the aerobic capacity of a healthy, average 50-year-old. He also had added to his pedaling power, increasing that measure by nearly 40 percent.

Unsurprisingly, his cycling performance subsequently also improved considerably. During his ensuing world record attempt, he pedaled for almost 17 miles, about three miles farther than he had covered during his first, record-setting ride. He was 103 years old.

These data strongly suggest that “we can improve VO2 max and performance at every age,” Dr. Billat says. There are caveats, though. Mr. Marchand may be sui generis, with some lucky constellation of genes that have allowed him to live past 100 without debilities and to respond to training as robustly he does.

So his anecdotal success cannot tell us whether an 80/20 mix of easy and intense workouts is necessarily ideal or even advisable for the rest of us as we age. (Please consult your doctor before beginning or changing an exercise routine.) Lifestyle may also matter. Mr. Marchand is “very optimistic and sociable,” Dr. Billat says, “with many friends,” and numerous studies suggest that strong social ties are linked to a longer life.

His diet is also simple, focusing on yogurt, soup, cheese, chicken and a glass of red wine at dinner. But for those of us who hope to age well, his example is inspiring and, Dr. Billat says, still incomplete. Disappointed with last month’s record-setting ride, he believes that he can improve his mileage, she says, and may try again, perhaps when he is 106.

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How Exercise Shapes You, Far Beyond the Gym

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When I first started training for marathons a little over ten years ago, my coach told me something I’ve never forgotten: that I would need to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I didn’t know it at the time, but that skill, cultivated through running, would help me as much, if not more, off the road as it would on it.

It’s not just me, and it’s not just running. Ask anyone whose day regularly includes a hard bike ride, sprints in the pool, a complex problem on the climbing wall, or a progressive powerlifting circuit, and they’ll likely tell you the same: A difficult conversation just doesn’t seem so difficult anymore. A tight deadline not so intimidating. Relationship problems not so problematic.

Maybe it’s that if you’re regularly working out, you’re simply too tired to care. But that’s probably not the case. Research shows that, if anything, physical activity boosts short-term brain function and heightens awareness. And even on days they don’t train — which rules out fatigue as a factor — those who habitually push their bodies tend to confront daily stressors with a stoic demeanor. While the traditional benefits of vigorous exercise — like prevention and treatment of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and osteoporosis — are well known and often reported, the most powerful benefit might be the lesson that my coach imparted to me: In a world where comfort is king, arduous physical activity provides a rare opportunity to practice suffering.

Few hone this skill better than professional endurance and adventure athletes, who make a living withstanding conditions others cannot. For my column with Outside Magazine, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing the world’s top endurance and adventure athletes on the practices underlying their success. Regardless of sport, the most resounding theme, by far, is that they’ve all learned how to embrace uncomfortable situations:

• Olympic marathoner Des Linden told me that at mile 20 of 26.2, when the inevitable suffering kicks in, through years of practice she’s learned to stay relaxed and in the moment. She repeats the mantra: “calm, calm, calm; relax, relax, relax.”

• World-champion big-wave surfer Nic Lamb says being uncomfortable, and even afraid, is a prerequisite to riding four-story waves. But he also knows it’s “the path to personal development.” He’s learned that while you can pull back, you can almost always push through. “Pushing through is courage. Pulling back is regret,” he says.

• Free-soloist Alex Honnold explains that, “The only way to deal with [pain] is practice. [I] get used to it during training so that when it happens on big climbs, it feels normal.”

• Evelyn Stevens, the women’s record holder for most miles cycled in an hour (29.81 – yes, that’s nuts), says that during her hardest training intervals, “instead of thinking I want these to be over, I try to feel and sit with the pain. Heck, I even try to embrace it.”

• Big-mountain climber Jimmy Chin, the first American to climb up — and then ski down — Mt. Everest’s South Pillar Route, told me an element of fear is there in everything he does, but he’s learned how to manage it: “It’s about sorting out perceived risk from real risk, and then being as rational as possible with what’s left.”

But you don’t need to scale massive vertical pitches or run five-minute miles to reap the benefits. Simply training for your first half marathon or CrossFit competition can also yield huge dividends that carry over into other areas of life. In the words of Kelly Starrett, one of the founding fathers of the CrossFit movement, “Anyone can benefit from cultivating a physical practice.” Science backs him up.

A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that college students who went from not exercising at all to even a modest program (just two to three gym visits per week) reported a decrease in stress, smoking, alcohol and caffeine consumption, an increase in healthy eating and maintenance of household chores, and better spending and study habits. In addition to these real-life improvements, after two months of regular exercise, the students also performed better on laboratory tests of self-control. This led the researchers to speculate that exercise had a powerful impact on the students’ “capacity for self-regulation.” In laypeople’s terms, pushing through the discomfort associated with exercise — saying “yes” when their bodies and minds were telling them to say “no” — taught the students to stay cool, calm, and collected in the face of difficulty, whether that meant better managing stress, drinking less, or studying more.

For this reason, the author Charles Duhigg, in his 2012 bestseller The Power of Habit, calls exercise a “keystone habit,” or a change in one area life that brings about positive effects in other areas. Duhigg says keystone habits are powerful because “they change our sense of self and our sense of what is possible.” This explains why the charity Back on My Feet uses running to help individuals who are experiencing homelessness improve their situations. Since launching in 2009, Back on My Feet has had over 5,500 runners, 40 percent of whom have gained employment after starting to run with the group and 25 percent of whom have found permanent housing. This is also likely why it’s so common to hear about people who started training for a marathon to help them get over a divorce or even the death of a loved one.

Another study, this one published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, evaluated how exercise changes our physiological response to stress. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, in Germany, divided students into two groups at the beginning of the semester and instructed half to run twice a week for 20 weeks. At the end of the 20 weeks, which coincided with a particularly stressful time for the students — exams — the researchers had the students wear heart-rate monitors to measure their heart-rate variability, which is a common indicator of physiological stress (the more variability, the less stress). As you might guess by now, the students who were enrolled in the running program showed significantly greater heart-rate variability. Their bodies literally were not as stressed during exams: They were more comfortable during a generally uncomfortable time.

What’s remarkable and encouraging about these studies is that the subjects weren’t exercising at heroic intensities or volumes. They were simply doing something that was physically challenging for them – going from no exercise to some exercise; one need not be an elite athlete or fitness nerd to reap the bulletproofing benefits of exercise.

Why does any of this matter? For one, articles that claim prioritizing big fitness goals is a waste of time (exhibit A: “Don’t Run a Marathon) are downright wrong. But far more important than internet banter, perhaps a broader reframing of exercise is in order. Exercise isn’t just about helping out your health down the road, and it’s certainly not just about vanity. What you do in the gym (or on the roads, in the ocean, etc.) makes you a better, higher-performing person outside of it. The truth, cliché as it may sound, is this: When you develop physical fitness, you’re developing life fitness, too.

Brad Stulberg is a columnist for Outside Magazine, where he writes about health and the science of human performance. Follow him on Twitter @Bstulberg.

Reward Yourself at CEO Challenges; Complex Knee Injuries in Pro Athletes; NBA vs NFL Injuries

Episode 16.34 with Hosts Steve Kashul and Dr. Brian Cole. Broadcasting on ESPN Chicago 1000 WMVP-AM Radio, Saturdays from 8:30 to 9:00 AM/c.

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Segment One:  The President of CEO Challenges, Ted Kennedy talks about the Camaraderie, Experience & Opportunity provided by CEO Challenges. Meet and compete with fellow C-suite executives that share your passion and interests. You’ll start out as strangers and finish as lifelong friends.

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Ted’s background is unique in the fitness industry and includes the following highlights:

  • 20 years in sales and marketing with packaged goods companies (Quaker Oats / Best Foods)
  • One of the original founders of IRONMAN North America (launching IRONMAN races in the USA)
  • Hosted the first ever CEO IRONMAN Challenge in Lake Placid in 2001
  • Started CEO Challenges with an exclusive license deal from IRONMAN in 2005
  • Sold his company to $1.4 billion Life Time Fitness in 2012 with the agreement to run it for five years

Ted has been interviewed by most major business news and fitness publications for hisCEO Challenges knowledge and relationship with CEOs that have a passion for endurance events. The CEO Challenge database includes 1,900 opt-in subscribers who receive monthly newsletters with race results and announcing new CEO Challenge events around the world. CEO Challenges enjoys an 83% post-event rating of ‘exceeded’ or ‘far exceeded’ expectations from some of the world’s most discerning customers.


nfl-knee-injurySegment Two: Dr. Brian Cole discusses the prevalence and his experience with
cartilage and complex knee issues in professional athletes; new techniques in dealing with the long recovery times; load related activity & pain management.


Segment Three:  Captain Matthew T. Provencher, MD MC USN with the Steadman Philippon Research Institute and Head Team Physician with the New England Patriots during their 2014 Super Bowl Championship Season. Dr. Provencher talks with Steve and Dr. Cole about his work in research; NBA vs NFL injuries and experience in setting up the Navy Seal Special Forces Tactical Athlete program.

Matthew T. ProvencherDr. Provencher graduated in 1993 with highest honors from the United States Naval Academy and was the Secretary of the Navy Distinguished Graduate, where he was an all-American rower. He earned his medical degree with Honors from Dartmouth Medical School in 1998.

He has served as Chief of Sports Medicine at The Massachusetts General since April 2013 and has been with the Patriots for the last two seasons. He also serves as a Professor of Surgery and Orthopaedics at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) and is a Visiting Professor at The Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Provencher completed his orthopaedic residency at the Naval Medical Center San Diego and his orthopaedic shoulder knee and sports surgery fellowship at Rush University in Chicago. A prolific researcher, he has received numerous academic and research awards including the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) Aircast Award, The International Society of Arthroscopy, Knee Surgery and Orthopaedic Sports Medicine (ISAKOS) Science Award.

He was also selected for several prestigious traveling fellowships, including the AOSSM Asia-Pacific, the American Orthopaedic Association (AOA) John Fahey North American Traveling Fellowship, and the American-British-Canadian (ABC) Fellowship. In addition, he has received multiple peer-reviewed research grants totaling over $1.5M to study topics such as shoulder instability, rotator cuff injuries, and ACL tears from funding agencies including, OREF, PRORP, and The Department of the Army and Navy.

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What does it take to Compete in Iron Man?; Customized Nutrition to Reduce Inflammation

Episode 16.21 with Hosts Steve Kashul and Dr. Brian Cole. Broadcasting on ESPN Chicago 1000 WMVP-AM Radio, Saturdays from 8:30 to 9:00 AM/c.

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Segment One: Robbie Ventura from Vision Quest Coaching talks about what it takes to train for Iron Man Competition.

Robbie Ventura is the founder and owner of Vision Quest Coaching. With a talented staff of world-class coaches, VQ provides expert training programs for over 300 endurance athletes of all levels, kids and beginners to elite-level, Tour de France champions.

Robbie graduated with honors from Lake Forest College with a double major in Business and Psychology. While working toward his Bachelor’s degree, he played on the Forester hockey team, which advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and was named to the All-American Collegiate Cycling Team. In 2008, he was inducted into the LFC Athletic Hall of Fame for his accomplishments in both hockey and cycling.

Robbie was a professional cyclist for 12 years. A competitive racer on the dirt, road and track since the age of 7, Ventura amassed over 70 victories during his professional career, was a member of the U.S. World Team and rode the Track World Championships in Hamar, Norway, placing 5th in the elimination.


Segment Two: Cole Cruz from Coalition Training talks about the importance of customizing your diet to reduce inflammation.

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Related: 11 Food Rules For The Ultimate Anti-Inflammatory Diet