What’s So Great about the Outdoors? – 7 Reasons to Take it Outside
Whatever your sport, says VERNE MAREE, you’re generally better off doing it outdoors. Apart from occasional health hazards such as the pesky sand-flies on East Coast Park, the odd monitor lizard in early-morning Macritchie Reservoir Park, or a wild boar c
A 60-year-old friend of mine from South Africa, who now lives in Perth, goes for a proper freestyle swim every morning of her life – in the sea. She’s guaranteed to find at least a couple of others from her group, she told me, come winter, summer, rain or shine. I’ve seen something similar in St Malo, Brittany, in the grey and blustery chill of winter – people either swimming back and forth, parallel to the shore; or simply striding along the seabed and breasting the waves. Merde!
Open-water swimming is to a chlorinated and heated indoor pool what a trail run is to a treadmill in an air-conditioned gym. If you’ve become a gym-rat for some reason, be it your home country’s extreme climate (Canada and Siberia come to mind) or for reasons of personal safety (South Africa, Brazil), Singapore holds the opportunity to change all that.
Once your body has acclimatised to the heat and humidity – and I’ll admit that it took me a whole year to get to that point – there’s a lot to be said for living in year-round summer. Apart from the horrible haze, there are few surprises from the weather man. We have only two seasons to contend with: hot and wet, and hotter and wetter; the mercury mostly hovers between a high of 32 and a low of 26 degrees Centigrade; and we’re guaranteed 12 hours of daylight every day.
Finally, after making an entire generation deficient in vitamin D, the medical world is waking up (again) to the life-sustaining benefits of moderate amounts of sunshine on exposed skin. But: Never, ever get burnt. Wear a hat or a cap, monitor your exposure carefully and use sunscreen. Happily, studies show that using a screen with SPF15 not only gives you effective protection, but also allows your skin to produce the vitamin D your body needs.
#2 Fresh Air
Shown to improve digestion, blood pressure and the cleansing action of the lungs, fresh outdoor air helps you think more clearly and lifts your mood. No one’s saying ditch the air-conditioning – that would be unrealistic – but unhealthy bacteria are known to build up in airconditioned gyms and other rooms where the air is recycled. But: When the horrible haze descends on Singapore, there’s no real option but the gym treadmill or that expensive stationary bike that’s been gathering dust in a corner of your apartment.
Forget glowing, or even perspiring. We outdoor runners sweat until our hair drips and our trainers are soggy. Luckily, this is wonderfully good for us. Not only is sweating your personal air-con system, it’s the best detox ever: it releases excess salt, cholesterol and alcohol, plus all sorts of toxins, including heavy metals and hormone-disrupting plastic additives such as bisphenol-a (BPA). But: Drink enough water. Not replacing excessive sweat-loss can lead to harmful dehydration.
Simply being surrounded by nature increases our sense of wellbeing. This could be because our ancestors spent most of their time in outdoor environments for thousands of years, so we have an innate affiliation with nature. What’s more, actually exercising outdoors is thought to have a synergistic benefit to health. There’s even a specially coined term for this: “green exercise”. But: Try not to get struck by lightning, and do watch out for wild boars. (Just a few weeks ago, seriously, I was almost knocked over by an enormous, panic-stricken hog charging down a sleepy Seletar street.)
With the whole of Singapore as your playground, you need never be bored. Instead of heading for the same four walls, join a yoga or tai chi class on the beach, do a boot camp in Fort Canning Park, walk or run in Macritchie’s natural forest. A friend of mine leads a Friday morning yoga class under shady casuarina pines on the East Coast, with plenty of room to stretch out, dappled sunlight and the sound of the sea. It’s heavenly.
I know a yoga teacher who goes out for her run at 10pm, once the kids are in bed and the heat of the day has dissipated. No, that’s not my style either – but it goes to show how safe Singapore is, and how you don’t have to be constrained by gym opening hours, class times or anyone else’s routine.
Outdoor exercise can be as cheap as you choose, or even free: it costs you nothing to lace up your trainers and head outdoors. The price of real estate in Singapore makes gym membership expensive, so it’s no wonder that we’re seeing fitness groups popping up in the various parks – all you’re paying for is the instructor’s time. Just think: the business model of a gym depends on the majority of its members staying away most of the time. A recent US study showed that 67 percent of people with gym memberships never used them! But: Shy souls might cringe at the idea of being gawped at. Just get over it, I say – we come in all shapes and sizes, and those random passers-by are almost certainly applauding your efforts.