Mother Nature’s Gym

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Mother Nature’s Gym

My sister Lucy and I have never traveled together. So, at our present ages of 73 and 66, we decided the time is now. The planning process has been thoroughly enjoyable because we want the same things: an active vacation with a little urban experience and plenty of green and blue – the green being woodlands, gardens and scenic landscapes; the blue being waterways – the coasts, rivers and lakes.  For me, this is a fabulous way to take my training out of the gym and into the great outdoors.  Of course, I have been doing my gym training to be sure to keep pace with my younger sister!  (See my workout routine at the bottom of this article).

Our itinerary for two weeks in the U.K. includes a few days in London and five days each in Cornwall and Devon. This gives us the experience of traveling the English countryside by train to the Cornish coast, spending time there exploring the towns, harbors and coves, and walking trails. In Devon we plan river trips, beach and coastal path walks, garden tours and hikes on the moors.

Greening the Mind

Exercising in natural environments has been associated with greater feelings of revitalization and increased energy. A simple walk in the park refreshes the brain by providing relief from constant noise and hectic nerve-wracking demands of city living.  The human brain’s ability to stay calm and focused is limited and can be overwhelmed with external stimulation, causing it to become distracted and forgetful.  Natural environments engage the brain with effortless attention, allowing for reflection.

Take a hike: Be prepared.  Know the length, elevation and location of the trail that you pick. Let someone know where you are going.  Wear layers of wicking fabrics, comfortable hiking shoes, sunscreen and a hat.  Take a light rain jacket for sudden changes in climate.  Make sure your day pack has your cell phone, a map, plenty of water and snacks.

Ride a bike: Like walking and hiking, you don’t need fancy equipment to ride a bike, but it is important topay attention to how your bike fits you.If you’re a novice, chose a bike that best suits the type of cycling you plan to do – mountain, road, park trails, etc. Be sure that the seat, handlebars and wheels are properly fitted to you. Wear a helmet. If you plan to bike for more than an hour, take snacks to refuel, and plenty of water.

Plant a garden: It’s the perfect time of year to get planting. Gardening is a peaceful activity that helps us relax and unwind. Many studies have shown the positive effect that gardening has on our mental health, reducing stress and calming anxiety. The rhythmic nature of tasks associated with tending a garden – weeding, trimming, sowing, sweeping – allow our thoughts to ebb and flow. You don’t have to start large – just try some hanging baskets or a few pots along a ledge.

Visit a park:  Take your indoor strengthening routine to the park, breathe in the fresh air and get a healthy dose of Vitamin D. It’s easy to adapt bodyweight exercises to a park bench outdoors. Begin your outdoor workout by walking for 15 minutes at a moderate pace in the park. Find some stairs, inclines and declines to vary the route. Then, scout out your bench. Stand behind the bench, using the top of the back for support and do 15-20 diagonal push-ups, plies, modified lunges, straight leg lifts, calf raises, and leg stretches. Walk around to the front of the bench to use the seat for squats and triceps dips.

The Blue Gym

While exercise in green space is good, adding blue is even better, like hiking a trail next to a river or the ocean.  From orbiting above, the Earth is often compared to a majestic blue marble, due to the 71% prevalence of water on the planet’s surface.  Water-based activities offer therapeutic benefits for both the body and the mind. You get a different perspective as you explore the waterways and see things you would never have seen from land. There’s also a mental boost, as you relax, discharge stress and take in the surrounding natural beauty.

In addition to popular activities like swimming and aquatic workouts, outdoor water-based exercise includes paddle sports: canoeing, kayaking and standup paddling, all of which develop upper body and core strength, endurance and balance. Paddle sports can be done individually or in a social setting like a club, training group or organized tour, which foster friendships and fun, a sense of community.  Always wear an approved flotation device.

Canoeing and Kayaking: Both involve paddling a small craft through water, on rivers, lakes and the sea. The craft is adapted to fit the demands of the environment. They are low-impact activities that can be done as a hobby, a competitive sport or a fun holiday outing.

The difference between them is in the design of the equipment. A canoe is an open vessel in which you either sit or kneel inside the canoe and use a single-bladed paddle to push the craft through the water. A kayak is normally enclosed, and you sit inside the kayak with legs extended, using a double-bladed paddle.

Standup paddling:  With paddle boarding, you stand on a board and use a paddle to glide along the water. All you need is a body of water – lake, ocean or river – a board and a paddle. Balancing can be challenging, so beginners should start with a bigger, wider board. Take lessons first before you invest in a board.

Conditioning for Your Vacation

Taking your workout to the great outdoors can inspire and motivate you to train for the activity or vacation you’re planning. Since Lucy and I will be covering a lot of ground in our English adventure, these were some of my personal goals in preparing for the trip:

  • Build upper body strength and endurance for toting my carry-on size luggage. We aren’t staying in any one location for more than three days, so we’ll be on the move, riding on trains and in car rentals. I want to be able to easily handle my gear.
  • Strengthen my core and lower back for sleeping in different beds, sitting on different seats in planes, trains and cars.
  • Build lower body strength and endurance for doing as much hiking and walking as possible.
  • Build aerobic stamina to easily manage the daily demands of the walks, uphill paths, and different types of terrain.

The Workouts

For strength training, I did two sets of 15 repetitions for major muscle groups three times a week. The workouts took about a half an hour.

  • Lower body:  the glutes, quads, hamstrings, inner and outer thighs
  • Upper body:  back, chest, shoulders, biceps and triceps
  • Core:  spine and abdominals

For cardio, one hour runs at moderate pace twice a week; plus 2-4 miles of daily walking as I carried out my normal routines.

Bon Voyage!

© Copyright – Joan L. Pagano.  All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

For expert guidance on strength training techniques, step by step photos depicting how to perform the exercises and a selection of well-rounded workouts please check out Joan’s book Strength Training Exercises for Women at


  • Joan Pagano

    Joan Pagano has specialized in strength training for women since 1988 – training, teaching, and writing books on the subject, including Strength Training Exercises for Women (DK, 2014). When the health benefits of strength training started making headlines in the 1990s, and in particular how weight training could protect the bones and prevent osteoporosis, it was a natural segue for her. At that time, Joan was developing and delivering fitness training guidelines for osteoporosis to national audiences of exercise professionals. Currently Joan is recognized by the industry as a leading authority on exercise program design for osteoporosis. She is certified as an Exercise Physiologist by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is on the Ambassadors Leadership Council for the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Visit Joan at:

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