People Should Participate in Outdoor Activities for Their Physical and Mental Health, Says Virginia Tech Expert | VTX

With the hot summer weather here, participating in outdoor activities brings a host of psychological and physiological benefits, says Samantha Harden, associate professor at the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Exercise and one Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist.

“Outdoor activities are an opportunity to get back to nature and ‘disconnect’ from the technological world,” Harden said. “We live in such an overstimulated world that getting back to nature can give us the opportunity to find that balance we all need.”

Physical activity guidelines for Americans include 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and two days of total-body strength training. Most people are familiar with aerobic exercise, but not strength training, Harden said.

The two forms of exercise are added together over a week. And strength training doesn’t have to be with extra weight, Harden said. It can also be with your body weight.

Safety during all forms of exercise is important, Harden said.

“One thing we focus on is your own perceived rate of exertion,” Harden said. “Something that is considered mild for someone might be moderate or even vigorous for someone else. It is always important to do what is within the limits of your own cardiovascular and muscular safety.

Summer outdoor aerobics and strength-training activities can be anything from a family walk to throwing a ball with a dog, Harden said. Other outdoor activities include:

  • Trek
  • Cycling
  • Kayak
  • outdoor yoga
  • A game of dodgeball, volleyball or basketball
  • Swim in natural water or a pool, if resources permit

The summer heat adds stress on the body and it is important to exercise safely outdoors. Harden has a few tips for monitoring your body and knowing when to stop activities when you’re outdoors in the summer heat:

  • Feeling cold or clammy on the outside in the heat
  • Can’t catch her breath
  • Become excessively red
  • Breathe too hard

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to stop exercising and drink fluids and move to a cooler place, if possible. It’s also possible to condition the body for summer heat by slowing it down, Harden said.

To prepare for outdoor activities in the summer heat and humidity, Harden says to develop a heat tolerance. According to Julia Gohlke, associate professor and researcher at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicinestart by being outside in the heat for 15 minutes.

“Just like with physical activity where you’re trying to avoid muscle injury and want to build slowly and slowly, you want to do the same for heat exposure,” Harden said. “The first day can be overwhelming, but over time, at the same temperature and duration, it becomes less uncomfortable.”