Outdoor or indoor exercise? NW docs say do what you like best

Outdoor or indoor exercise? NW docs say do what you like best
Courtesy Alki Kayak tours.

SEATTLE – As the weather gets warmer and we begin to recognize the sun again, many folks around the Northwest prefer to spend their time in a kayak or on a bicycle rather than at the gym. But, do outdoor activities offer the same health benefits as a more predictable gym workout? Local doctors say as long as you are exercising, it’s less important what activity you do.

Dr. Chris Maeda, a sports medicine specialist at Pacific Medical Centers, recommends people exercise for 40 minutes to an hour five days a week, but says it is best to find an activity you look forward to, whether it is indoors or outdoors.

“As long as you’re actively doing something that’s what makes the most difference,” Maeda says. “If you enjoy it, you’re more likely to do it harder, and longer.”

Greg Whittaker, owner of Alki Kayak Tours and Mountain to Sound Outfitters, says he got back into his “college shape” after he left his consulting job and began starting each day in a kayak instead of behind a computer.

“I’ve never been able to do successful gym workouts because of the tediousness of it,” Whittaker says. “Kayaking gives you more of a sense of adventure.”

Whittaker says if you paddle correctly it tones your core muscles. On a paddleboard, he says you’ll use every muscle in your body to balance and anchor yourself.

He says even yoga on a paddleboard is quite different from practicing inside a studio.

“You’re on a fluid surface so you’re utilizing more full body balance,” he says. “Plus, you’re out in the elements so you can do a sun salutation to the setting sun.”

While outdoor exercise can be just as beneficial as a session at the gym, Maeda is concerned those exercising outdoors this summer could injure themselves if they don’t train during the colder months.

“You should be training during the off-season and doing things in the gym to prepare for outdoor sports,” Maeda says. “The gym offers a more controlled setting where you can cross train to balance out your muscles.”

But, Dr. Leslianne Yen, a sports medicine specialist at Minor & James, says people who exercise in a gym can be more likely to injure themselves by overworking certain muscles. She says outdoor activities often offer a more diverse and balanced workout.

But what about those who aim to lose weight? Maeda says it is more important to focus on the calories you are consuming rather than the calories you are burning, but he also recommends complimenting your fun, outdoor activity with resistance training.

“Muscle burns more calories than cardio,” Maeda says. “Weight training improves bone strength and prevents injuries.”

For physical and mental health benefits, Yen agrees it is more important to do an activity you enjoy. 

“The obstacle is people feel like they need to fit into a certain box,” she says. “People need to figure out what motivates them and pursue that.”