HEALTHY YOU – Exercising outside improves physical and mental health

NANAIMO – Recent studies have found that exercising outdoors is not only good for people physically, but also mentally.

From trail running to cycling to swimming, the Harbour City has plenty of options when it comes to exercising outdoors.

Recent studies have found that exercising outdoors is not only good for people physically, but also mentally – researchers at Glasgow University looked at natural and non-natural environments for physical activity and found that the natural environments had a 50-per cent greater positive effect on people’s mental health than if they went to the gym.

The city has more than 200 outdoor spaces and parks to play in, said Hannah King, manager of recreation and culture services with the city.

“You often hear that Nanaimo is pretty well situated for trails and parks,” she said.

One of the most popular areas with runners and walkers is Westwood Lake Park, as well as the three sets of beach access stairs in north Nanaimo, which people run up and down, said King.

The E&N Trail and the Parkway Trail, as well as trail networks through many parks, are popular with cyclists, she added.

For a workout similar to what people get in a gym, King said people go to the outdoor wellness park – an outdoor gym with stationary equipment – at Oliver Woods Park and the Participark at Beban Park, which is three kilometres of trail with different equipment such as chin-up bars, climbing rings, step-ups and a scaling bench.

King said with Nanaimo’s mild climate, people exercise outside all year – even on Christmas Eve, people were using the tennis courts at Bowen Park.

And there are many groups in the city dedicated to doing different outdoor activities together year-round, including hiking, road running, trail running, road cycling, mountain biking and paddling.

Dan Brady, trail run coordinator for Runners of Compassion Nanaimo, said membership is just shy of 300 single-track trail runners and about 60 per cent are female.

The group goes out rain or shine or snow and runs trails all around Nanaimo and Ladysmith together.

“We all know how fantastic it is – all that fresh air and the nature and the quiet,” said Brady.

Local fitness trainers are also taking their workouts outdoors.

Jon Wengel, owner of Full On Fitness on Boxwood Road, said he trains outdoors as much as he can in his bootcamps, kickboxing classes and programs for athletes.

“I just like to be outside,” he said.

“When you’re outside, you’re seeing the sun come up, you’re hearing the birds chirping … your day gets pretty good if you start it like that. You don’t need a whole lot of equipment to train outside.”