Last Friday, I was passing by the room in our athletic club where group-cycling classes are held, and I heard the instructor tell the group, "I saw the weather forecast and it's going to be a wonderful weekend. I don't want to see any of you here on Saturday and Sunday. Go play outside!"
Everyone laughed, but as it turned out, that was pretty good advice. In fact, it was still ringing in my ears on Saturday when my husband and I went for a day hike on the Appalachian Trail. For the record, it seemed like everyone else had been given the same admonishment - I saw families, college students, inveterate hikers and those who looked like they were experiencing the trail for the first time. The leaves were just starting to change, and it was a perfect day to get out.
Something especially fun was hiking near a local Scout troop. Those kids were chugging up the trail. Their Scoutmaster was trotting beside them, encouraging them along.
"C'mon, guys," I heard him say as we approached a steep area, "This is nature's StairMaster."
The kids laughed and charged upward, having a great time. At the top, it leveled off for a bit before it wound up on Annapolis Rocks, which is a beautiful scenic vista.
The Scouts crawled to the edge of the rocks and leaned over to watch people use climbing ropes they had obviously set up that morning. They marveled at the way one guy was climbing "just like Spider-Man."
"Wow," said one kid. "That's nature's climbing wall."
Sometimes, we forget some of the best fitness facilities are in our own backyards, or a few miles away. They're forests, hiking trails, streams and lakes. If we're in more citified areas, they're municipal baseball diamonds, sports fields, walking paths and basketball courts. Either way, when we go there, we get an amazing workout. And when we return to our health clubs, we are in even better shape because of our cross-training (and our time spent outdoors in the fresh air).
The group-cycling instructor's advice to take a break from the athletic club scene was probably some of the greatest anyone could get. As fitness professionals, we might think it's counterintuitive, but occasionally, we all need something to shake up our routine. After all, if someone considers fitness his or her daily responsibility, it's all too easy to start thinking of it as drudgework, particularly on a pretty day. A break refreshes us and brings us back with renewed commitment.
Let's all make the commitment to encourage people - kids and grown-ups - to go play outside at least once this fall. It generally means many happy returns.