On June 9, 2013 hundreds of people gathered in New York’s Fort Tryon park for a “Green Gym” workout. Led by Nancy Bruning and her team, it was a way to introduce people to the benefits and possibilities that an outdoor (“green gym”) exercise can offer. I talked about Walking a few years ago, but Nancy’s approach is far more than walking or jogging. In fact, she is behind Nancercize – a movement that brings your workout outdoors, and hosting a “Green Gym” day (GreenGymDay.org) was a perfect way to showcase it. Hopefully, more communities around the country will embrace this concept and host their own “Green Gym” day, which falls on June 8, 2014 next year. In the meantime, here’s what I learned from talking to Nancy.
Use your Upper Body
Exercising outdoors, it’s so easy to stay on your feet where the focus is on your legs. Nancy Bruning recommends that you add upper body exercises. People tend to ignore upper body work. Nancy says women especially need to work on upper body since we don’t have the natural upper body strength compared to men. Since we spend so much time at the desk or in the car, it’s easy to get hunched over, so stretching your chest and strengthening the back is very important. Do you need to bring weights to the park? Not necessarily. Humans were using body weight exercises exclusively from the early ages. Once you add the repetitions and more sets, body weight does not look so easy. It’s very important to maintain a good form says Nancy, and that also brings the much important control to your movements.
If you’re looking for ideas, check out Nancy’s book – Nancercize: 101 Things to Do on a Park Bench
Make it Fun
The concept of “Green Gym Day” allowed for a variety of exercises for kids and adults. Basically, people had to be outside and move. Some of their classes included tai chi, yoga, ping-pong, zombie tag for kids, and one of the most popular that day – flamenco dancing. This popular Spanish dance got everyone moving. Chicago (and I would guess many other towns) hosts summer dance nights where people gather in a park and learn a dance and then dance it with a partner. Nothing like dancing under the stars! The point is to make it fun for you. Do you enjoy running outside? Then, run. Do you like martial arts? Try tai chi in the park. Do you like to move? Have a dance party! Nancy grew up in New York City and she grew up roller skating around town. Roller skating is a lot of fun – “makes people feel like a kid again”, says Nancy. Personally, I love power yoga in the park – you feel strong, you connect to nature, and feel refreshed afterwards. Nancy’s blog – Nancercize – offers a lot of advice on what you can do. On a recent post following her European trip, she talks about how to discover the parks on vacation. I particularly liked her suggestion on following the park’s surroundings to inspire your workout – holding a tree pose, for example.
Make it a Lifestyle
It took a personal crisis for Nancy Bruning to realize she wanted to combine her love of writing with exercise. Struck by breast cancer at the age of 30, Nancy realized “I am going to die at some point, so I needed to face mortality, help people, be valuable, find more pleasure in life” – not working so hard and eating healthy, finding time for exercise. At 30, Nancy was a writer (and she has written over 26 books by now), so following chemotherapy which she talks about in her Coping with Chemotherapy book, she put the brakes on her life as she knew it. After getting certified as a personal trainer and getting her Master’s degree in Public Health, Nancy Bruning started her lifestyle & exercise business. She started with fitness walking – less than 30 minutes of walking – combined with a variety of bodyweight exercises. Originally, she thought of calling it “Fitness Al Fresco” until a client said to Nancy: “Why exercise when you can Nancercize” and Nancercize was born. Her approach is to combine the fitness program with eating advice – no grains for 2 months, focus on whole foods, veggies and fruit. Nancy recently contributed to the “Healthy Pleasures” book – showing that food can taste good and still be happy.
If you’re stuck in a rut and don’t feel like going to the gym or think you don’t like exercise, perhaps you should rethink your approach. Try going for a brisk walk outside or take one of the many yoga in the park classes. Make it about your lifestyle and not another chore on your list. Best of all, it’s always open, so you can fit in a workout any time you need. Nancy goes out every day, including winter.
Use the Power of Nature
Living in the suburbs of Chicago, I always notice how the minute I get away from the city and into my leafy community, my heart rate slows down and I feel more relaxed. This is not really about city vs. suburb, but rather the power of nature. Nancy Bruning mentioned a study done recently that found that people are less stressed outdoors. Nature has its own health effects, including lowering your blood pressure and offering more oxygen. Don’t forget the beauty of the seasons – it will inspire your workout too.
While you can start your own “Green Gym Day” next June (make sure you register your activity on the Green Gym Day website and send photos/video), remember that any day can be Green Gym Day!