Beyond the Dreadmill: How to Stay Active Outside the Gym

May 25, 2017
A girl rafts on a kayak on a river on a sunny day
Thinking about spending more time at the gym? Maybe you’d like to have a little less around your middle, or more core strength, or better energy. Maybe you think that more frequent visits to your gym or fitness center—putting in time on the machines or taking a class—would help with all of that.

Technically, you’d be right. In fact, a recent study from Iowa State University found that those using a gym membership regularly had 14 times higher odds of meeting weekly guidelines for physical activity.

But not everyone who has a gym membership shows up there every week—or even every month.

If you’ve been bored with the gym lately, or if it’s not easy to get there as often as you’d like, there are many possibilities for physical activity that go way beyond what’s available at the gym. And there are a lot of ways to stay active that may fit more easily into your busy schedule—without giving up on the gym entirely.

Leave Your Car at Home (Or Just Park Further Away)

Our cars have made our lives so convenient that we sometimes forget we have other transportation options. Walking is great exercise and a boost to your spirits. Biking is also a great way to combine exercise and transportation. If your commute is long or in heavy traffic, “park to pedal” by driving to a bike-trail access point or other parking area and biking the rest of the way to work. You may be surprised how much of a workout you can add to your routine with just a few small adjustments.


Hiking, like walking, is great for both body and mind. Getting out in nature just helps to add that extra boost of energy and renewal that we all need from time to time. A few recommendations f0r those just starting out: don’t attempt more than you can handle, take water and a few basic provisions if you’ll be very far from civilization, and always let someone know your plans and timeline for return.

Get on (or in) the Water

Swimming, rowing, canoeing, and kayaking are all very healthy activities to do outdoors. And while you might think the water is doing most of the work, you’d be wrong. With aerobic and strength benefits for your arms, legs, and trunk, swimming is just about the perfect overall workout. And canoeing 4 mph for an hour actually burns more calories than running 6 mph for an hour. And because you spend energy in bursts, rowing or paddling help you, in the same way interval training does, to burn calories and build muscle faster.

Remember Recess

Remember how much you used to look forward to recess? Take a hint from your childhood and make time in your day to get outside and move. Walk to lunch. Play basketball or soccer with coworkers. Maybe even see if anyone’s up for a game of tag.

When it’s time to get your own kids out to play, don’t sit on the sidelines. Climb those monkey bars. Slide down the slide. Teach them the games you and your friends used to play. If you don’t have your own kids to play with, consider coaching or assisting with youth programs. You may be amazed at how pleasantly tired out you can get just trying to keep up with a gang of five-year-olds.

Get Things Done

As adults, we tend to feel we have too much to do, and not enough time to do it. Trying to fit workouts around other obligations has sunk more than one fitness resolution.

You can get quite a bit of activity in your day by doing the things you need to do anyway. Painting a bedroom, carrying things up or down stairs, or even giving the dog a bath.

Even less intense activities (like folding laundry) can be more fitness-friendly if you do them standing up. Because being fit these days means not only being more active, but also sitting less.

And for days when you just don’t want to be outdoors at all—keep that membership at the fitness center. You’ll be more likely to use it if you come to it fresh and ready to explore new and interesting options. Even on the dreaded dreadmill.

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