It has been widely confirmed in different studies that there is a significant correlation between exercise and improved mental health. Of course, too much of anything is harmful, but working out can help relieve stress, tension, anger, sadness, grief, sleep problems and many other common ailments. Many people workout in gyms, and this in no way negates the value of doing so. Working out to any degree is constructive. Yet, recent studies have shown a profound indication that mixing outdoor activities into your regular workouts can produce more auxiliary benefits.

For many people, working out can require a little encouragement, and for some, going to the gym has an added element of stress associated with it. This can be related to the natural habit of comparing yourself to people who workout six days a week, have strict eating regimens and spend hundreds of dollars on training supplements. Although this isn’t a fair comparison to make, exercising outside can help alleviate the angst, and not let it become an excuse. Taking major steps to start living a healthy lifestyle demands a lot of courage. You are who you are. Everyone has different body types and personal health situations. Starting your routine outside can help you reach a baseline level of confidence, and get you closer to achieving your overall goals.

Living in Jacksonville, and Florida in general, makes it easier and more manageable to exercise in the outdoors year-round.  Our winters are very mild, in comparison the rest of the country, which makes us the brunt of much comedic resentment.

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We Hate You Florida.

Not only does the weather provide more opportunity, our city’s urban park system is the largest in the entire U.S. We have 80,000 plus acres of parks, 10 state and national parks, a natural preserve, numerous city parks and gardens and a 120-acre arboretum. Beautiful locations like Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, Big and Little Talbot Island, the Riverwalk, Castaway Island, Mickler’s Landing, the Baldwin Trails and our numerous public beaches are just a few of the incredibly unique options to choose from.

There are plenty of exquisite, remote places to conduct your outdoor workout in Jacksonville if you want to take a break from the gym and create some variety in your routine. Being outside also gives you an opportunity observe nature’s splendor and develop an appreciation of how much more there is to the world than our day-to-day problems. If you are running or biking alone, you have the opportunity to be in your thoughts and unwind.

UNF graduate and nature enthusiast, Christine McFaul, said, “Being outside is relaxing for me. I’m focused on myself. I run for awhile, take a break, look around, take a photo of the landscape and keep going. If I’m not paying attention to time, I’ll end up going further than I intended, and it becomes a longer, healthier workout.”

The outdoor terrain differs from a treadmill, or track entirely. Nature has variables in its structure and isn’t consistent. This helps strengthen your lateral leg muscles and ankles, as well as increase proprioception, or dexterity. Because running and biking outside creates a dynamic, changing environment, your body must keep its concentration on what is coming next. This increases your body’s energy output in less time. Local Jacksonville supporter, artist and bridge-runner, Jenn Mims, gives insight as to why she enjoys running on the downtown Riverwalk and bridges. “It has to do with visual goals. Seeing the target in the distance, and fighting to get there! Plus, the wind down is nice. Seeing the beautiful St. John’s River and Main Street Bridge. It adds a calming effect and achievement for hard work.”

Setting personalized workout goals, distances, times, repetitions and weight help build positive self-esteem and confidence when you achieve your goals. Once you have reached the feat, being able to take a moment and appreciate your success, and your natural surroundings can be cathartic. Local young professional, Monica Ceraolo, relates. “I was recently going through a tough personal situation, and running on the beach helped me quiet my mind and focus on myself. For me it is very spiritual and cleansing. It’s 100 percent me time where I can transcend.”

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Running and biking are not the only outdoor activities Jacksonville offers. Not only do we have beaches and rivers to surf, ski, wakeboard and paddleboard, which provide both upper body and lower body exertion. We also have breathtaking intracoastal waterways, creeks, marshes and wetlands, which provide perfect areas to kayak, canoe, stand-up paddleboard and more. Kayak Amelia, off Heckscher Drive, rents these items and has a launch ramp into the intracoastal where you can start your adventure. All of these activities develop a great deal of upper body, core strength and cardiovascular benefits.

If you are an animal lover there are also many great locations to take your pet to play around in nature. The Dog Wood Park, by J. Turner Butler Boulevard and Salisbury Road provide open fields, trails, a lake and even an obstacle course. If you are looking for a more private area, Tillie K. Fowler Regional Park, near NAS Jax, has gated fields to let your dog run free and much wooded area to explore. The Baldwin Trails were once abandoned railroad tracks, off I-10. Since then, the rails have been converted to well-maintained concrete trails for walkers, runners, bikers and so forth. Surrounded by an immense amount of nature, the trails even take you through the historic town of Baldwin, which was founded in 1846.

The world we live in today is so much different from what it used to be. For the overwhelming majority of history, humans have been hunters and gatherers, living in unison with nature, or in a community, bartering services. Physical exertion was just a fact of life if you wanted to eat, survive or just get around. In 1914, Henry Ford started utilizing the assembly line concept to more quickly mass-produce cars. This was only 100 years ago. In the 1930’s, during the Great Depression era, many supermarkets like Safeway and Kroger began to open up because consumers had to be prudent with their money.

Today one in three people in America are developing pre-diabetes. Obesity has become so bad that even federal, state and local government has tried to get involved. Dr. Jessica Bartfield, of the Maryland Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Illinois, believes that for the first time in history, the next generation is not expected to live as long as their parents. Exercise and proper eating habits are incredibly important to a long life. Working out can be challenging, but its benefits are tremendous. Supplementing your exercise routine with outdoor activities can help you not only physically, but mentally. Yoga aficionado, Tiffany Palazzini, summarizes the benefits of exercising in nature perfectly. “Practicing yoga outside, whether on my mat or barefoot in the sand, there is a special connection I have with the universe. I breathe deeper because the air is fresh. My mind is clearer from visually soaking in Mother Nature’s beauty. I feel whole emotionally, physically and spiritually, in a way only our world outside can provide.”