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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

A Breath of Fresh Air: The Many Health Benefits of Being Outdoors

GettyImages-1191767354We have all heard the old sayings about fresh air and how it affects your well-being. It usually comes in the form of sage advice and sounds like something you can take with a grain of salt, but is there truth to this advice? There are times in our lives when we might not even see the sun, whether it’s because of our careers, lifestyles, or by choice. Although these reasons may have validity, there is some very good research that supports outdoor activities as a viable way to improve your overall health.

Are You Making the Most of Your Time Outside?

Of course you go outside as part of your daily routine, but are you making the most of your time outside? How can you make that time more productive? The reasons for going outside are numerous, whether it be for work, hobbies, recreation, exercise, or relaxation.

Health Benefits of Being Outside

During the daytime, sunlight can have some positive impacts on your body such as Vitamin D activation (and its wide range of benefits, like helping with everything from osteoporosis to decreasing depression). Researchers at Harvard University have laid out five important health benefits from being outdoors:

  • Vitamin D enhancement: Benefits include disease-fighting properties, weight-management properties, and mental wellness properties.
  • Opportunities to exercise: Being outdoors allows for a higher probability for physical activity and putting your body into movement.
  • Mood enhancement: Light and fresh air have been shown to improve your mood. Smiling more also doesn’t hurt!
  • Concentration and focus: Fresh air has also been shown to help individuals living with ADHD.
  • Healing: Some studies have shown that individuals who had surgery or were experiencing pain had a less stressful experience when exposed to sunlight and fresh air.

How to Get Outside More

There are many opportunities to immerse yourself in outdoor activity. Simply going outdoors for a walk around the block is a great way to get the ball rolling. As you grow your outdoor experiences, you can branch off toward the many facets of wellness and fitness. A bootcamp workout with friends, reading a book by the canal, and walking your dog are just a few of the activities waiting for you outdoors. Don’t limit it to yourself; include others and inspire them to go outdoors with you.

As the summer continues, being outdoors becomes a highlight of the day. At NIFS, going outdoors to exercise could not be simpler, especially with the abundance of space and scenery at your fingertips. Several classes offered at NIFS, including NIFS Bootcamp, take advantage of open space near and around the facility. For more information about NIFS and exercise opportunities, please feel free to reach us at fitness@nifs.org or through our social media.

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: summer outdoor vitamin D relaxation outdoor exercise mood health benefits

Summertime Safety: Protect Your Skin During Outdoor Workouts

GettyImages-828979918The glorious return to summer is upon us, and if you are like me, you will be spending as much time as possible soaking up sunshine as you take your leisure outdoors, take up hobbies in the yard and garden, and engage in group fitness bootcamp classes in the park. The sunshine feels good and has many benefits, including mood enhancement, vitamin D production, and even treatment for a number of skin conditions such as psoriasis and acne. There are, however, some dangers associated with extended sun exposure that can be limited with the use of sunscreen, most notably skin cancer.

Finding the Balance Between Healthy Sun Exposure and Overdoing It

After a long winter or even a rainy spring, predictably, we will want to get out and about on the very first day possible. The first exposures to the summer sun usually leave us with a surprisingly red glow, the first sunburn of the year. For some people, this sunburn is a rite of passage for the season. As I noted before, there are some dangers with overexposure to the sun that have more serious consequences than a simple sunburn. According to the Cleveland Clinic, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, and the number of cases is on the rise. This cancer forms when prolonged exposure to the sun is accumulated over time.

The old saying “too much of a good thing” really resounds as we try to find the balance between healthy sun exposure and overdoing it. For many people, using sunscreen is a way to find a happy medium so that they can enjoy the outdoors. Scientists at Harvard have some healthy tips for those who may have reservations using sunscreen (such as developing acne and exposure to chemicals) and warn that the alternative to sunscreen usage is much, much worse. The biggest takeaway, though, is that sunscreen, by itself, will not be enough if limited prolonged overexposure to the sun is not your priority.

Tips for Staying Safe in the Sun

Here are some pointers that will take your sun safety to the next level.

  1. Be aware of the dangers of overexposure. There are many sources to help educate yourself about these dangers and the ways you can limit and prevent serious damage to your body.
  2. Sunscreen is good, but it’s not the only tool in the toolbox. You will also need sun-protective gear and clothing to stay safe.
  3. Use sunscreen correctly. When using sunscreen, make sure you know the specific rating and reapply regularly.
  4. Watch for skin changes. See your doctor if you develop any abnormal skin (always be safe, not sorry).

Prepare for Sun Exposure

Take time to treat your skin, your body, and your mind. We need sunlight to live, but we need to respect it. As we move into summer, more and more fitness classes are held outdoors. Make sure you are preparing for the sun. Ask your facility whether they provide sunscreen; NIFS provides stations at the entrances for your convenience.

If you have questions regarding health and wellness, NIFS staff members are available for consultation and can provide information regarding workout planning, fitness testing, and nutrition consultation with a registered dietitian. As always, muscleheads rejoice and evolve!

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: Thomas' Corner summer cancer sunscreen vitamin D outdoor exercise

How Getting Outdoors Helps Your Well-Being

GettyImages-857107456nGrowing up and continuing to live in the Midwest, I’ve grown to appreciate the summer months more and more. In fact, in Michigan we joke that there are really only two seasons:

  1. Sweltering summer with a side of construction.
  2. The endless frozen tundra that is 8 months of winter.

Long story short? When it’s nice enough to not have to wear a parka to brave the outdoors, you best believe I’m outside on a bike ride, relaxing by a lake, or unplugging on a hike in the woods during my down time.

Recharging Your Batteries with Nature

I’ve always felt like this has helped me recharge my batteries, anecdotally at least. But now, more and more research is mounting to support the idea that simply being in nature has numerous benefits to health and well-being. For example, a meta-analysis completed by Jones & Twohig-Bennett (2018) found statistically significant decreases in diastolic blood pressure, incidence of diabetes, and salivary cortisol (hello decreases in stress), while also reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and improving life expectancy and mental health. Not too shabby, right?

Spend Two Hours or More Outside Each Week

But how much time do you need to spend in nature to reap the rewards for health and well-being? It looks like current research is supporting the 120-minute threshold per week.

White et al. (2019) examined results from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey in England, which included 20,000 people over a three-year span. They found that those who reported being in nature for two hours or more during the week were overall healthier and had a greater sense of well-being compared to those who did not get outside at all. Spending 60 to 90 minutes came with some improvements, but it was not as significant an effect as two hours. And over 5 hours per week had no additional benefits. What’s more, these results rang true across all demographics examined in the study: age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, proximity to nature—all exhibited improvements to health and well-being at the two-hour mark.

So, the moral of the story? While the exact mechanism remains unknown, making time in your schedule to get outside in some way, shape, or form for two hours a week (in ANY increments of time) can not only help you mentally recharge, but also significantly improve your health and well-being going forward.

For some tips on exercising outdoors safely in the summer, check out this blog.

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: outdoors cardiovascular outdoor exercise stress relief longevity nature mental health well-being

It’s Summertime! Stay Safe in Your Outdoor Exercise

GettyImages-914977726Just like the Fresh Prince says, “Summer, summer, summer time….Time to sit back and unwind!’’ We’ve waited for this time for months, where there is no more snow and plenty of sunshine. Long days of outside fun, no kids in school, road trips and vacations—what more could we ask for?

But, baby it’s hot outside! Don’t let the heat cause you to lose your momentum. You can still keep working hard during the summer time; you just have to adjust a little. Keeping the following summertime fitness tips in mind will help you continue to get stronger and healthier.

Try water workouts.

Choose water workouts and aqua fitness, and make a splash as you get fit and strong. You can even improve your performance in the heat by lowering your body temperature in the pool before heading outside.

Use the shade.

It’s smart to move your workouts to a different location to avoid overexposure to the sun. If you are a runner or a biker, try a route in a wooded area.

Get proper hydration.

Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise. The last thing you want when exercising is for the summer heat to take over. Avoiding caffeine, which forces water out of our systems, is also a good idea. Here are some more tips for getting hydrated.

Choose your clothing carefully.

It is important now more than ever to wear clothing that will move sweat away from your body and help it evaporate quickly. White or light-colored clothing reflects the heat better than darker clothing.

Monitor your heart.

The heat places greater stress on your heart. Be sure to keep an eye on your heart rate as you work out in the heat. Take a break if it starts to spike or get too high.

Beat the heat.

Try beating the heat with an earlier workout time. UVAs are the strongest between 10am and 3pm. Make every effort to minimize your workout outdoors during those hours.

Sunscreen is a must.

Use a stronger SPF just to be safe. It’s important to protect your skin.

Stop if you’re feeling faint or sick.

If you are feeling faint or sick, stop working out immediately. Sit down in the shade, drink water, and always have a nourishing snack available.

Know the symptoms of heatstroke.

Heatstroke is a serious threat that can be fatal. Symptoms include high body temperature (104 degrees or higher); absence of sweating with hot, flushed, or red/dry skin; rapid pulse, difficulty breathing; strange behavior, hallucinations, confusion, agitation, or disorientation; and seizure.

GettyImages-675818642

Hit the gym.

You may find that the best thing to do is simply to stay inside the gym to get your workouts in during the summer. It’s a great time to work on form, increase intensity with no worry of heat exposure, and plan out a new, exciting routine.

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This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, Weight Loss Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: summer hydration water sunscreen outdoor exercise aqua fitness

Tabata at NIFS: A High-Intensity Group Fitness Workout

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 12.43.56 PMTabata is currently one of the trendiest workouts, due to the amazing results people are attaining. It's a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) format that consists of 8 rounds of an exercise performed for 20 seconds with a 10-second rest period.

High-intensity workouts bring the heart rate up and down through intervals. During the 20 seconds of a Tabata set, an exercise is performed at all-out effort, bringing the heart rate up to a peak followed by a 10-second recovery. The total time to complete one round is 4 minutes, but those 4 minutes will push your body to the max if done properly, leading to an increase in metabolism and fat burn while maintaining lean muscle tissue.

What Exercises Are Performed During the 20-second Push?

Body weight or light resistance training exercises are performed during the 20 seconds of work. This could include high knees, jumping jacks, plank variations, or exercises that use free-weight equipment like medicine balls, resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, and more. The more variety and muscle groups engaged during a Tabata, the more benefits you will gain.

When Does NIFS Offer Tabata?

Through the summer months (May–August), Tabata can be found on the group fitness schedule multiple times through the week and is currently offered outdoors (weather permitting) on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12–12:30.

The Benefits of Outdoor Exercise

When taking Tabata outdoors, you will not just benefit from the HIIT-format class, but also will experience the amazing benefits of working out outside. In a study done by ACE Fitness, those who exercised outdoors experienced more energy, decreased anxiety and depression, and a harder workout due to surface difference and wind resistance. Not only that, working out in groups outdoors is a great way to engage with your community and have accountability buddies to support you.

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This blog was written by Brittany Ignas, BS in Kinesiology, 200 Hour Yoga Alliance Certified, Stott Pilates Certified, and Fitness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS group fitness workouts accountability high intensity HIIT outdoor exercise tabata

Fall Fitness in Indiana: The Perfect Weather for Outdoor Exercise

ThinkstockPhotos-514312120.jpgIn Indiana, we experience all four seasons (sometimes all in the same day!). Your outdoor training and exercise regimen can be effected significantly by the season. While summer can be a fun, exciting time, exercising outdoors can be daunting and somewhat risky. While making sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen is important, a workout could just as easily be sabotaged by a trip for ice cream. Conversely, winter has its own set of challenges, including bundling up and having the proper footwear, as well as thinking about running out of daylight.

Luckily, for us Hoosiers, there is a happy medium: fall. Fall in Indiana provides us not only the ideal temperatures for outdoor exercise, but also the right atmosphere to get a jump on the busy holiday seasons. Here we discuss what you can do to make your autumn fitness lifestyle as productive as possible.

Family Exercise

Enjoying time with your dear ones can be challenging in the summer as well as winter. The kids are going to the pool in the summer, and there are so many family get-togethers in the winter, so it’s hard to relax for one weekend. There are many weeks in fall that allow for family time and exercise. Getting out in the cooler weather helps everyone become more comfortable with the environment. In turn, exercise comes more easily.

If you want your family to be more productive, raking leaves and yard work not only helps get your yard looking nice, but also gives you exercise and the self satisfaction of a job well done. Branching out from there, neighborhood cleanups tend to happen this time of year as well. You may reach out to your local neighborhood leaders to see when the next opportunity comes up.

For the Children

During the summer months, children have a lot of time to get outdoors and play. This form of exercise is a great way to develop physically and socially. With fall comes the return of school. Although many schools have recess and physical education classes, there seems to be a lack of lifetime physical fitness activities. There also seems to be an abundance of sitting. To counteract childhood obesity, getting your children the physical fitness they deserve could help keep their bodies strong and reduce the risk of diabetes.

What Can You Do?

Easy enough: GO OUTSIDE! Enjoy the foliage. Fall in Indiana produces postcard-quality beauty and charm. Although the weather isn’t bad, make sure to layer your clothing so that you can be more comfortable.

When it comes to nutrition, make sure to discipline your sweet tooth (for example, against Halloween candy) and tame your urges to try the Pumpkin Spice Everything. Boot camps are also a popular class in this season. Any group activities are a bonus because you will not only get great fitness but also meet new, like-minded individuals who can help you find a support network.

Your Challenge

I encourage you to step out this season. Get some exercise with your family and venture to a part of the state you might have never visited. There are dozens of state parks and recreational areas waiting to be explored. You can get a head start on the holiday season, and hopefully when your New Year’s resolution is on the front burner, you will be ready to go!

For more ideas for training this time of year, see a NIFS Health Fitness Specialist, who can design workout plans and discuss goals so that you are getting the right exercises to reach your personal bests. Let’s go!

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood, Health Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. To read more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS fitness nutrition new year's fall Indiana outdoor exercise