KILTED! is a philosophy that I developed to help guide my quest for better health. KILTED! Can be summarized by 7 simple principles that are crucial if you want to make a transformational change in your life. Today we continue with the fourth principle: Trek Out.
I mentioned in Principle #4 Part 1 that I never enjoyed the gym environment or any of my attempts to use cardio machines indoors. That is why I designed the KILTED! Principle to include as much outdoors fitness time as possible, plus it allows me to focus on cardio in a more stimulating way by literally getting out of the gym. Trekking Out has further advantages in that it is a concept that can mean several different things for me as well as in the KILTED! Principle.
Putting the OUT in Trek Out
I’ll start with biking. Riding a stationary bike indoors can be just plain boring. I much prefer biking in the outdoors, I like to be out on the trail, so to speak (even if it is paved). I prefer to feel the wind running through my hair (my beard, that is). Moving helps to cool you when you are sweating as well. Plus, and this is a big plus, there is more mental and visual stimulation outdoors too.
Riding outdoors gives many environmental variations and distractions that you can’t experience in the gym. Some might argue that a stationary bike offers you varied levels of resistance – but let’s get real here, those levels of resistance are meant to imitate hills – nature’s varied resistance mechanism. You will also have many opportunities riding in the street or sidewalk (check your local laws for what is most appropriate in your situation) to vary your resistance as you slow for traffic or turns. And although this may seem like a distraction forcing you to break your pace, it also keeps you guessing and is healthier (my opinion) for muscle development that “3 minutes at level 1, then 3 minutes at level 2…” and so on.
Riding outdoors gives you a whole level of challenges that you can’t experience in the gym: the weather! I’ve ridden in the sun and in the rain and in most other types of weather. Cold and snow requires more specialized gear to keep you warm. I was known to ride through the snow back in college, so long as the roads weren’t icy, but haven’t lived near enough snow for the challenge in over two decades. The most surprising facet of the weather is wind. You haven’t felt resistance until you’ve turned a corner and had a strong headwind cut your speed from 20 miles an hour down to 5!
Even if you’re riding the same course day after day, it is different every time. Now that I’m riding almost daily, I’ll share some examples from my morning ride. My neighborhood is new and still under construction, so the worker’s trucks and equipment are in different places every morning and I can watch the progress of the construction or the tree clearing depending on where I am in the neighborhood. Furthermore, I have several opportunities to cross roads so between the traffic and the middle school kids heading to the bus in the morning, I never know who or what I will have to dodge. If that isn’t enough variation for you, you can always alternate your course from day to day.
Benefits of Exercising Outdoors
Let’s take a closer look at “indoors” vs. “outdoors.” EPA studies have shown that Americans on average spend approximately 90% of their time indoors where concentrations of some pollutants are 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations.
Despite the threat of seasonal allergies and pollution, outside air is better for you and generally contains less pollutants than inside air. Most homes and businesses are inadequately ventilated and are loaded with pollutants paints, chemicals, and mold. Fresh air also contains higher levels of phytoncides (airborne chemicals produced by plants) and inhaling these chemicals increases our white blood cell production and this helps fight off infection and disease.
Most vitamins come from the foods we eat, but Vitamin D is the exception which our bodies can produce naturally with enough exposure to natural sunlight. Vitamin D is a hormone which is essential for a healthy immune system and helps fight osteoporosis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Vitamin D deficiency may even be the cause Seasonal Affective Disorder which causes depression from autumn through the winter months when we typically spend less time outdoors. Doctors recommend at least 10-15 minutes of unprotected exposure to sunlight daily.
Vitamin D is also critical for your vision. Studies by researchers such as Dr. Dr. Donald O. Muttii (The Ohio State University), Dr. Ian Morgan (Australian National University and Sun Yat-Sen University in China), and Dr. Mike Tang (Canada’s Center for Contact Lens Research) have shown that lack of exposure to sunlight is a major cause of myopia in children and recommend two to three hours daily. Furthermore, spending too much time staring at computer and television screens can cause blurred vision, double vision, headaches, eye irritation and neck and back pain. Getting outside and letting your eyes focus on distant objects can prevent and reverse these symptoms.
Researchers have found that simply being outdoors and in nature can reduce stress and improve general well-being. Two different Stanford University studies compared people who walked for 90 minutes in nature to those who walked for 90 minutes in an urban setting. Their research “showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.” Spending time outdoors also increases the levels of serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter in the body.
ScOUTing for Fitness
I was a Boy Scout growing up, reached the rank of Eagle at 16, and spent over a decade of my adult life as a professional Scouter. Whether you love the organization or hate it as some people have chosen to, no one will deny that much of Scouting is designed to get kids into the outdoors. Even back when I was a kid, my Scoutmaster always used to point out that three-quarters of “Scouting is Outing.” Scouts are given opportunities to go camping, hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, and a whole host of other high adventure activities.
When I was a Scout, I focused on the more academic merit badges over the more physical ones. Perhaps if I had done more of the physical ones, I would have learned better eating and exercise habits and I wouldn’t be in the shape that I am today.
After a lull in my Scouting activities over the past couple years stemming from the organization prioritizing its own income over the its responsibility to the boys, my son is getting to the age where I need to become more involved again. I recently spent a 3-day weekend in the outdoors camping with my son’s Webelos Patrol as we joined his future Boy Scout Troop on a campout.
I was never what you’d call an Uber-Camper who could live in the outdoors indefinitely living off the land and filtering his own urine, but I can hold my own out in the woods. But given how out of shape I am, it was amusing to out-hike a group of 10-13 year-olds. On Saturday, we took the Scouts on a short 1-mile hike and trail clean up, but Sunday had a dramatic, soul-crushing 3-mile hike! (Feel free to insert dramatic fanfare or ominous music here.)
Now a 3-mile hike over relatively flat terrain is not that taxing to an out-of-shape, middle-aged adult. But you’d think from the reaction of most of the kids that they were hiking from coast-to-coast. Even without his backpack for half of the hike, my son acted like it was pure torture! Dragging his feet, complaining about the distance, getting others to carry his pack and water bottle (which he didn’t drink enough of) and all kinds of other complaints.
Fortunately, my son understands some of the basics of conditioning already. When discussing the hike after getting home, he decided that he needs to become a stronger hiker and the way to do that is to go out walking with his mother after she gets home from work. That way he’ll be stronger when the next hike comes up. He doesn’t know it yet, but that his is only a month away. Welcome to Boy Scouts son!
Get OUT of Your Comfort Zone
The best workout I’ve had in years did not come at the weight bench or in the saddle of my bike. It came from an activity that I had always wanted to do, but had found (or made) found the opportunity to pursue in earnest. I have always been fascinated in swords and swordsmanship. Blame Dungeons & Dragons, and movies like Excalibur and Highlander for getting me started when I was young.
I never really had an outlet before college. But once I started at college, I checked out SCA (the Society for Creative Anachronism), the school’s Kendo Club, and eventually registered on the Fencing Team. That lasted for a while, but I didn’t pick it up fast and by the end of my Sophomore year other activities had pulled me away. Once I settled into work after college, the itch was still there and I looked around for options. I stumbled onto a sensei for Toyama Ryu Batto Do swordsmanship which is a Japanese sword cutting art based on the later (WWII era) military academy techniques. I worked with him for a while, but work conflicts and my new marriage prevented me from maintaining a commitment. I moved again and explored Muso Jikiden Eishin-Ryu for a total of 8 hours before work commitments again prevented involvement.
Six years went by with the interest still there but no local outlets for swordsmanship training. Fast forward to our family’s most recent move to a larger city and my research of local swordsmanship finds both European fencing and Eishin-Ryu. But what really stood out was a group that practices German longsword based on a 16th century Better yet, this group offered a low-cost Introduction to German Longsword over 3 Saturdays. The wife agreed and I registered for the class.
I love the level of tradition involved with the Japanese sword arts where there are established lineages of training with the style being passed down from master to student traced back over successive generations to the original founder sometimes centuries ago. However, I was pleased to find the German longsword not to be so precise on its techniques as the modern practitioners are largely the first or second generation of students reconstructing the techniques from long out-of-print manuals. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a right and a wrong way to do each attack and each block, but there’s a little more leeway in the exact angles of attack and the footwork.
Just practicing the longsword techniques was enough to break a moderate sweat. After the first weekend, it was obvious that I was also engaging muscle groups which I had not used in quite some time. From the quads getting a workout form the stances to the arms with the overhead hold and blocks, my muscles were not enjoying it – but I sure was. In the final week, we moved on to apply the skills we had learned through a 30-minute sparring session. This is where the workout really kicked in. By the half way mark, I was drenched in sweat and out of breath. Awesome workout!
I had planned to start right away but my wife’s work schedule changed, thus preventing me from attending the early class and my son’s Scout meetings prevent me from attending the late class. That only leaves the Sunday class – which has traditionally the family day. I never made it back to the longsword class, and now that we have moved to Georgia, the nearest equivalent is more than an hour away so I’m still looking for an alternative.
The main point of Trek Out is to get active. But an important companion point it that there are significant health and mental benefits to getting active outdoors and to trying new experiences that will get you out of your comfort zone. If swords don’t interest you, try another martial art like kickboxing, or something else outdoorsy like archery.
Trekking out doesn’t have to be for exercise either, in fact, about half of this post was written outdoors while camping with the Scouts a week ago.
Get active and get outdoors!