Green Exercise

Improve your health in the wild

Moving your exercise routine to the great outdoors can have huge health benefits, and there are plenty of options to get out and move in Winnipeg.

Yoga instructor Ashley Bourgeois says it’s common to see birds - including eagles - soaring overhead as her students balance in a cobra pose on their paddle boards. She’s even held a downward dog while nearby beavers slapped their tails on the water’s surface.

“You can’t get that in a yoga studio,” Bourgeois says.

Through her company, Wild Path, Bourgeois helps her students integrate nature and fitness by teaching yoga classes on paddle boards, which is referred to as SUP (stand up paddling) yoga.

“I also run yoga hikes, where we go on day hikes exploring Manitoba and doing yoga along the way,” Bourgeois says.

She says her classes and retreats are meant to help reconnect her students with nature.

For those who aren’t into manipulating their bodies on a mat or for people with a tighter budget, there are many more options in Winnipeg.

Assiniboine Park and Forest, FortWhyte Alive, Living Prairie Museum and even the Assiniboine and Red rivers are places Kristine Hayward of Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) recommends.

“Even small neighbourhood parks are gems,” Hayward, WRHA’s physical activity promotion/in motion coordinator, says.

She refers to taking your workout outdoors – whether that’s going for a walk or kayaking – as green exercise.

Hayward emphasizes while it’s beneficial to get physical activity in any surrounding, you just get a few bonuses when in a natural environment.

“You get a lot more mental health benefits and a sense of well-being,” Hayward says.

In a 2009 article titled Take it Outside, Hayward wrote that outdoor play for children reduced stress, and contributed to better focus, improved fitness levels and improved emotional and social development.

“Combining physical activity and nature can improve the overall physical, mental and emotional health of your entire family,” Hayward wrote.

Living Prairie Museum Director Sarah Semmler has read up on some of these studies and is aware of the benefits both of being in nature and of exercising, and the 13-hectare tall grass prairie preserve offers the opportunity to do both.

She says the museum offers public guided hikes, self-guided tours and free snowshoeing at different times throughout the year for people who want guidance in how to use the wild prairie space.

“If you want to go for a walk on your trails, it’s open from dawn until dusk,” Semmler says. “Joggers are also allowed through. They just have to stick to the paths laid out throughout the patch of land.

“You’re getting to be in nature, so you’re seeing these wild areas,” Semmler says.

There are options for people of all abilities and wallet sizes. Hayward says everyone just has to find what works best for them.

Study up on outdoor options, hours of operation and admission fees at fortwhyte.org, assiniboinepark.ca and winnipeg.ca/publicworks/parksOpenSpace/livingprairie/

Published in Volume 71, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 8, 2016)

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