Nfld. & Labrador

Fresh-air fitness is better for you, research shows

A 4th-year student at Grenfell Campus says his research shows that health and recreational funding are usually spent on indoor rinks, gyms, and pools.

Staying active outdoors better for your health, and cheaper, too

Cross-country skiing can be great outdoor fun. (File photo)

If your New Year's resolution is to become more physically fit, a student researcher in Newfoundland and Labrador says you should take your workout outside.

Ian Walker is a 4th-year Bachelor of Environment and Sustainability student at Memorial University's Grenfell Campus. 

For his final independent research paper, he focused on the mental and physical health benefits of green, or outdoor, exercise as compared to indoor exercise.

"When you're on the edge of whether you want to go outside for the day, or stay inside and watch a movie, I'd suggest definitely putting on that extra sweater and getting outside," said Walker.

Survey says

As part of his research, Walker surveyed people in Corner Brook as they engaged in physical activity in one of two locations: the Corner Brook Civic Centre which houses an indoor walking track and fitness centre, and Margaret Bowater Park, which is a starting point for the Corner Brook Stream Trail Network. 

If you're in a small town in Newfoundland and Labrador, your backyard is a beautiful place to exercise.- Ian Walker

Walker asked survey participants what they thought about the benefits of indoor exercise and outdoor exercise, and how important each is for physical and mental health.

Regardless of where they were being active on the day of the survey, Walker said all the people he spoke with responded that outdoor exercise was more important.

"People talked about fresh air, getting outside and the mental clarity that comes with exercising outdoors as opposed to indoors," said Walker.

Ian Walker is a 4th-year student at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University, who has researched the benefits of outdoor exercise compared to indoor exercise. (Submitted)

Spend money wisely

Since people recognize the importance and benefits of outdoor exercise, Walker believes it makes sense to encourage policy makers to develop and maintain more outdoor recreational facilities instead of indoor gyms and rinks.

He's calling on provincial and municipal governments to invest wisely.

For one thing, Walker said that walking and skiing trails tend to be less expensive to build than indoor facilities.

Snowshoeing is a great way to be physically active outdoors in the winter. (Submitted by Kathy Lampi)

"Not every community can afford these massive tracks, and ice surfaces, and things like that," said Walker.

In addition, outdoor recreation opportunities can be brought closer to people where they live, regardless of the population of the area.

"If you're in a small town in Newfoundland and Labrador, your backyard is a beautiful place to exercise, and has more benefits than these very expensive indoor facilities," said Walker.

Cost to maintain

Walker says even larger towns that are able to afford indoor recreational facilities may want to consider putting money into outdoor recreational opportunities, which can be less costly to maintain over time. 

He points to examples such as the now-closed Grenfell Campus pool, which needed $2 million in maintenance that Memorial University wasn't prepared to spend, and the Mike Adam Recreation Complex in Wabush, which no longer has enough money to cover operating expenses and is slated to close in 2019.

"By investing in outdoor infrastructure, you avoid these high maintenance costs and are able to keep those facilities open, hopefully indefinitely," said Walker.

"But, at a much more affordable rate, it should be easier to keep these facilities going."

Bundle up and gain traction

Walker said some survey participants commented that our harsh climate can be an obstacle to getting exercise outdoors.

In response to that, Walker said it all comes down to having the right gear for rough weather, including proper footwear, and maybe even traction cleats to prevent slips and falls.

Snowshoeing is less expensive than some other winter activities. (Christer Waara/CBC)

But what about on a snowy, cold day when you'd rather look out the window than go out there?

Walker said an average winter's day is no reason to stay indoors.

"Grab some snowsuits and dress appropriately for the weather," he said.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Bernice Hillier is a host of CBC Newfoundland Morning, which airs weekday mornings across western and central Newfoundland, as well as southern Labrador.

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