Gyms are great and have their merits. But there’s more than one way to burn calories, blast fat and get fit. 

So, jump off the treadmill and try these 15 outdoor activities that prove workouts never have to be boring and also can be a lot of fun.

Hula hooping

The hoop gained international popularity in the late 1950s when a plastic version was successfully marketed by California’s Wham-O toy company. But the toy has turned into a serious fitness tool.

“I don’t workout, but I hoop everyday and, because of that, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m very physically fit,” said Cynnara Wodecki, who teaches hooping workshops.

One of the perks of hula hooping is that it’s fun for all ages.

“A lot of people feel pressured to work out,” Wodecki said. “Getting up and going to a gym feels like a chore. Hooping is the opposite.”

It’s not just a workout for your waist. With time and practice, hooping can become a total-body workout, Wodecki said. Hula hooping offers a great core workout. But you can drop your waist to do squats with it. And if you take the hoop up to your chest, it’s an upper body workout, Wodecki said.

Calories burned:

140-pound person — 420 calories/hour

200-pound person — 492 calories/hour

Kiteboarding

Kiteboarders use wind energy to move across the water on a board attached to a large kite.

“Not only are you flying a kite, but you’re balancing on a board, and you’re controlling where you’re going,” Konnor Chappell, a sales associate at Houston Kiteboarding, said. 

“It’s amazing how much of a workout it is,” he said. “It works your legs, your core and your back.”

But it doesn’t feel like a workout, Chappell said.

“You have so much freedom and your adrenaline is going,” he said.

Most people can master kiteboarding quickly.

“We can teach someone who has never flown a kite before,” he said. “From ground zero it takes about nine hours.”

Calories burned:

140-pound person — 340 calories/hour

200-pound person — 635 calories/hour

Walk your dogs

Do yourself and your canine buddies a favor and go for a walk.

Julie Dial takes her huskies, Newman and Denali, to the granite surface trails at the Seabrook Hike and Bike Trail System.

“You’re surrounded by woods,” Dial said. “It’s nice in the summertime, because they don’t get as hot with the canopy of trees.” 

And, the softer surface is easier on the joints, because there is less impact, she said.

Cardiovascular benefits aren’t the only upside. 

“There’s robust literature out that talks about the healing power of animals, from a mind-body-spirit perspective,” Dial said. “It’s been known to relax heart rate response and lower blood pressure.”

Outdoor activity increases serotonin, a hormone the body produces that contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness, while decreasing cortisol, which is the stress response, Dial said.

Calories burned:

140-pound person (3 mph) — 210 calories/hour

200-pound person (3 mph) — 299 calories/hour

Paddleboarding 

After watching paddleboarders in Pensacola, Fla., Kim Thomas scheduled a two-hour lesson that changed her life.

“I fell in love and turned my whole life around,” Thomas said. “I bought a board. I bought a car that would accommodate a board, and, now, I live on the water.”

While fitness is one benefit of paddleboarding, it’s not the main draw for Thomas.

“I find my center on the water,” she said. “It’s where I do my best thinking and where I’m at peace,” she said.

Paddleboarding is a versatile sport and something almost anybody can do, no matter what age and skill level.

“People use it for training, for fitness, for relaxation,” she said. “My son uses a paddleboard when he goes fishing.”

Calories burned:

140-pound person — 436 calories/hour

200-pound person — 635 calories/hour

Surfing

The low-key attitude associated with the surfing community belies the physical strength it takes to catch a wave. Surfing forces you to use balance and requires leg, arm and core strength.

“I actually enjoy being at the gym, but if I had a choice, I would definitely surf,” Damien McDonald, owner of Southern Spears Surf Shop in Galveston, said.

“Surfing is a full-body workout. It works on your endurance and your flexibility,” he said.

The health benefits of surfing don’t just apply to your physical state.

“There’s definitely a physical component with all of the paddling you do, but I think for most surfers it also helps their emotional state,” McDonald said. “You’re out there and you’re in the water and it’s a calming environment.”

Calories burned:

140-pound person — 191 calories/hour

200-pound person — 272 calories/hour

Go for a run

Whether you are planning a marathon or 5K, or like to hit the trails, streets, or on the beach, establishing a running routine has definite health benefits. Douglas Paddon-Jones, a faculty member in the Department of Nutrition and Metabolism for the University of Texas Medical Branch, has been running since he was a child.

“Growing up where I did in Brisbane, Australia, we’re kind of active by genetics,” he said.

Now, running is part of his daily routine. Paddon-Jones gets up at 5 a.m. each morning for a run or ride.

“If I take more than a couple of days off, I start to feel it,” he said. “I think a lot of people might say that they can’t because they need the sleep, but if you can fit in the exercise, you’ll have so much more energy. With just a little bit of habituation, you get past those early aches and pains.” 

Paddon-Jones has participated in a number of marathons and four Iron Man triathlons. 

Part of the allure of running is the convenience, he said.

“If I’m away at a conference, I’ll pick a landmark and run to it,” he said. “If you’re in a city, there’s no better way to see it than running or walking.”

Calories burned:

140-pound person (5 mph) — 508 calories/hour

200-pound person (5 mph) — 726 calories/hour

Tai Chi

The gentle movements of tai chi may not seem as effective as pulse-racing cardio. 

“It’s a little known fact, but tai chi is considered as effective as moderate aerobic exercise for cardiovascular benefit,” Dr. Victor Sierpina said. “It relaxes your stress level and decreases your blood pressure.”

Sierpina has been practicing tai chi for the past 30 years. His practice takes about 20 minutes each morning and, depending on the weather, is done outside.

“I practice tai chi on my back deck looking over beautiful Offatts Bayou,” he said. “It really is a moving meditation. If I miss it, in two or three days, I notice that I’m not as peaceful, calm or patient.”

In addition to the mental benefits, tai chi can be used as a cross-training tool for athletes.

“The physical benefit comes with flexibility and balance. It really helps with other sports that I do, such as tennis or racquetball, even weights and cycling,” Sierpina said.

On the days after weight training, Sierpina especially tries not to skip his tai chi practice. 

“It loosens my muscles and helps with muscle soreness and flexibility,” he said.

Calories burned:

140-pound person — 254 calories/hour

200-pound person — 363 calories/hour

Horseback riding

When you saddle up, it’s not just the horse getting a workout. Horseback riding requires coordination, and leg, arm and core strength.

“You’re using muscles that you never use,” said Terri Glenn, who has been riding her whole life. “It’s a full-body strength workout and if you kick them up into a run, you can really get your heart rate up.”

Going for a trot gives riders a chance to connect with the great outdoors. 

“You get to see things that you don’t get to see when you’re in the gym, because you’re in nature,” Glenn said. “On the island, you get to see spoonbills when they come in for nesting, pink herons and wood ducks.”

Calories burned:

140-pound person — 254 calories/hour

200-pound person — 363 calories/hour

Yoga

A regimen of regular yoga provides cardiovascular benefits, increases flexibility and improves strength and balance. 

Kathleen DiNatale, owner of The Yoga Haven in the island’s downtown, doesn’t think of yoga as a workout. She believes that yoga is working in.

“The physical benefits of yoga are secondary to the internal benefits,” DiNatale said.

But, taking your yoga practice outdoors is logical, because yoga is not separate from nature.

“Many yoga postures are named for animals or aspects of nature; crow, cat/cow, dog, cobra, locust, peacock, tree, etc.,” DiNatale said. “The postures were spontaneous expressions of the feelings that arose from being in nature, being a part of, not separate from.”

DiNatale said she feels that she connects to the historic essence of yoga when she moves her personal practice outside.

“I enjoy meditating as the sun breaks the horizon — watching the play of light and clouds, the feeling of the wind against my skin, and the changes in temperature make me feel alive,” she said. “Hearing the sound of the waves, birds, insects buzzing and the morning coming to life awakens in me the sense of being part of a greater whole.”

Calories burned:

140-pound person — 159 calories/hour

200-pound person — 227 calories/hour

Cycling

Both a low-impact exercise and an environmentally sound mode of transportation, a cycling routine will get you on the road to better health. 

“The cycling community in Galveston County is growing quickly,” Russ Cooper, owner of Webster Bicycle, said.

“The Houston-area is pretty far behind a lot of other parts of the nation in using bikes for transportation,” Cooper said. “On a sunny afternoon, we will go to the grocery store on our bikes. We get a lot of looks when they see the whole family roll up and lock our bikes right by the door.”

Using a bicycle as a means of transportation cuts down on the amount of gas you use, but it also limits the amount of strain on joints.

“I see people using the bike to recover from an injury because it’s not as hard on your joints,” Cooper said. “Your fitness increases and weight loss is easier because it’s low-impact.”

Calories burned:

140-pound person (10-12 mph) — 381 calories/hour

200-pound person (10-12 mph) — 544 calories/hour

Fly fishing

Here’s an exercise resolution most men wouldn’t mind keeping — fish more. Because of its great cardiovascular benefits, it’s easy to get hooked on fly fishing as a fitness regimen.

“Fly fishing is more physical than other types of fishing because of the additional steps that are required to cast a fly rod, using not only forward casts but also back casts and even line hauls,” said Jarid Malone, who has been fly fishing for 18 years and has owned Galveston-based guide service JM Flyfishing since 2003.

“Casting a fly rod is largely centered around the upper body movement, where everything from the arms to the back to the chest and even core muscles are used,” he said.

The amount of movement required to fly fish depends upon the technique used. There’s sight casting, which is only casting to fish that have been spotted, or blind casting, which is casting repetitively to cover large areas of water, Malone said.

Malone takes to the water at least four to five days a week, and gives casting lessons on his days off. 

“One great thing about fly fishing is that there is a minimal fitness level that is required to participate,” Malone said. “But, the sport can be as physically demanding as a person would like for it to be, especially when you incorporate activities such as wading, hiking and rowing or poling a boat.”

Getting a workout surrounded by nature is a stress-reliever for Malone.

“It takes a lot of commitment for most people to regularly exercise in a gym, but when you’re outdoors, it’s easy to focus on the activity at hand and forget that you’re actually exercising,” he said.

Calories burned:

140-pound person — 381 calories/hour

200-pound person — 544 calories/hour

Rollerblading

Kim Bachmeier moved to Galveston in 1990 to attend college and invested in a pair of Rollerblades.

“I can’t describe the peace that I feel when I Rollerblade — I could just go forever,” Bachmeier said. “You can make it as hard as you want or as easy as you want, depending on the wind.”

Rollerblading tones and strengthens your legs. And it’s a great cross-training tool for anyone, no matter what their sport is, said Bachmeier, who is an owner of downtown island shop Fit Tri Run.

“A lot of us have jobs where we sit, so we don’t use our hip abductors actively,” she said. “The hip flexor area tends to get weak as we age and those little muscles help with movements we take for granted — like getting in and out of a chair. Rollerblading taps into all of those muscles.”

Calories burned:

140-pound person — 762 calories/hour

200-pound person — 1,089 calories/hour

Sailing

Set sail to a fitter you.

“You can get away from all the noise with sailing, because you don’t have an engine running,” said Glen Gordy, who owns South Coast Sailing Adventures in Kemah. “You don’t need headsets and microphones to talk to each other.”

Want your children to be more active?

“It’s great for kids, because they become engaged with the world around them instead of what’s going on with their iPhone or iPad,” he said.

The number of calories you burn while sailing depends on how much you’re moving the sails. 

If you’re cruising, sailing isn’t very physical, Gordy said. But if you’re racing, you’re moving the sails all the time.

“When you’re cruising, you raise the sails and you set the sails for the course you want to go,” Gordy said. “You might be on that course for hours or days, depending on the voyage. When you’re racing, you are changing the sails constantly to maximize your speed down to the 10th of a knot.”

Calories burned:

140-pound person (in competition) — 318 calories/hour

200-pound person (in competition) — 454 calories/hour

Canoeing 

Going for a paddle works your arms and core muscles and provides a bit of respite from the stress of everyday life.

“I find it mentally relaxing,” said Clark Andersen, who has been canoeing since he was a teenager. “I enjoy being in the outdoors, watching the scenery, and experiencing it all as it changes with the seasons and the weather.” 

Andersen’s father introduced him to “serious” canoeing on the Allegheny River in northwest Pennsylvania during his late teens. At age 25, he bought his first canoe and has paddled regularly ever since.

“When I paddle regularly, it is a full head-to-toe workout,” he said. “It is generally a low-impact exercise, and you can adjust the aerobic and strength intensity to whatever level you care to.”

The pleasure of canoeing comes with the opportunity to explore and adventure in the natural world.

“You experience things like encounters with alligators, paddling through thunderstorms, and seeing places that most people never see — the physical exercise is a bonus,” he said. “Exercising indoors is boring. While paddling, the exercise is merely incidental to the overall experience of being on the water in the outdoors.”

Calories burned:

140-pound person (light effort) — 191 calories/hour

200-pound person (light effort) — 272 calories/hour

Tennis

There’s a reason Anna Kournikova and Andy Roddick are in tiptop shape. Tennis combines cardio and muscle-lengthening strength. 

“It’s heart healthy — you’re getting that cardio,” said Kevin Duke, a tennis pro at The Fitness Center at South Shore Harbour. “You’re using most of the muscles in your body. If you don’t have a strong core, you can’t serve or hit overheads as well,” 

Duke sees tennis as a lifelong sport.

“It is a sport that transcends generations,” Duke said. “I’ll walk on the court and see a grandfather playing with his grandson or a mother and daughter.”

Tennis is a game you can begin playing later in life, because you can always play against your peers, he said.

The cardiovascular benefit of tennis comes with the necessity of quick recovery.

“When I was playing in college, a lot of the training we did was based on recovery,” Duke said. “We would do hard workouts for a couple of minutes at a time and in 25 seconds, we had to get our heart rate back down to a resting heart rate.”

When tennis players go on for a point, they have a short break. Then, they must go back as fresh as they were the last point, Duke said.

“If you get tired, your game drops off,” he said.

Calories burned:

140-pound person — 445 calories/hour

200-pound person — 635 calories/hour

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