Breaking a Sweat

Outdoors offers plenty of options for working out

By Jon Shoulders

Spring in central Indiana often seems like one long, tedious prolongation of winter, keeping our activities indoors and our fitness options limited. But summer — summer! — now that’s a season that yields opportunities for some serious sun-soaked exercise. After all, your fitness achievements don’t have to take place within the confines of a cold, crowded, cacophonous gym when options abound around the southside for getting your outdoor summer sweat on.

The upside

You don’t need dumbbells, resistance bands or medicine balls to get muscles fatigued and energy expended out in the elements. Adam Heavrin, professor of exercise science at Franklin College, says simple workouts are often the most effective, particularly after a long indoor season when the body needs to get reacclimated to increased activity.

“Physiologically, the outdoors provides much more natural variation for muscles and challenging the body,” he says. “Use your iPhone or Fitbit to count the steps you’re taking outside and try to increase that over time — even working in your garden or playing with the dog in the backyard. Fill a backpack with some books before you go walking or get your wheelbarrow out of the garage for more muscle use.”

“Physiologically, the outdoors provides much more natural variation for muscles and challenging the body.” — Adam Heavrin

Ryan Skora, lead health and wellness coach at Johnson Memorial Health, says the closer we are to nature, the better appreciation we tend to have for our health and well-being. “Being around water and the woods can help relieve stress,” he says. “Rather than the treadmill, getting into the woods on hills and things can help with balance and stability.”

The benefits of outdoor exercise aren’t merely physical either. Heavrin says nature provides challenges to the brain that aren’t as easily found at the gym.

“When you’re outside, your body, nervous system and brain have to adapt to an ever-changing environment, even when you’re walking on a sidewalk that has inclines and declines that you barely notice,” he says. “Grass, trails, gravel — anything like that creates an opportunity for neuroplasticity, where the brain is making different connections and learning how to move muscles differently than maybe they have been doing in previous months.”

Got wheels?

Joe Acheson, sales manager at Bicycle Garage Indy South in Greenwood, says biking provides the perfect pastime for those wanting to push the limits of their fitness pursuits with minimal wear and stress on bones, joints and tendons.

“Low-impact exercise like biking is great, especially right now with the popularity of high-intensity interval training; that kind of workout is much easier for your body to do on a bike,” Acheson explains. “You can push the intervals a little harder without feeling like you’re just tearing up your joints. And, of course, you’ll enjoy nature and being outside while you’re at it.”

Get your pedal-powered workout in on the Historic Greenway Trails in Franklin, which comprise about five miles and pass several city parks, wetlands and the Franklin College campus. Casual and advanced riders alike can get their biking fill at Southwestway Park, which offers several forested trails as well as family-friendly walking paths, a playground and soccer fields.

For more information on trails throughout Johnson County, including detailed maps, check out

Clocking In

Whether you’re biking, hiking, splashing away at the local pool or just taking the dog out for a brief, brisk stroll, Skora points out that the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes of activity per week for the average adult, and those interested in losing weight should bump that number up to 200 to 250 minutes.

“There’s been debate recently on how you accumulate those minutes, and some say 30 minutes at a time is good, but not everyone has 30 minutes five days in the week,” Skora says. “Some research shows you can break that down into 10-minute intervals and still get plenty of benefits. There’s nothing out there that says even getting out for a five- or eight-minute walk isn’t good for you. The main thing is to just get out when you can.”