From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

We're lucky in Canada to have so much outdoor space full of natural resources. There are 42 national parks and thousands of lakes and rivers. Why not translate that expanse into a free gym? Dr. Heather Arthur, an expert in physical activity and a Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson, encourages all Canadians to get 30 minutes a day. Local parks, trails, hills, forests and bodies of water are perfect places to get the physical activity that will keep your heart healthy. Here are 5 easy ways to use nature as your own personal gym.

  1. Try Tai Chi or yoga in a local park. This is a good way to get some activity on very hot days when you might not otherwise want to be doing anything outdoors. The slow, deliberate movements of Tai Chi and yoga are relaxing, but they also build muscle tone and can help you improve your breathing - a great stress buster. For more information on Canadian Tai Chi classes, contact the Taoist Tai Chi Societyand for yoga, try your local YMCA.
  2. Try geocaching, either with family or friends. This outdoor activity involves using a hand-held satellite device - global positioning system (GPS) - to search for a hidden treasure such as a small toy or message called a cache. This can get you walking around the city, in a national park, on a provincial hiking trail or in any other publicly accessible area. Find out more about geocaching.
  3. Many cities have community gardens. Planting, weeding and caring for a garden is a great reason to get outside and do some activity. Plus, you can try planting tasty and healthy herbs or vegetables. Look for a community garden near you. Alternatively, devote part of your balcony or backyard to tomatoes and lettuce. You'll be able to toss together your own salad by the end of the growing season. Read the Heart&Stroke monthly column by gardening expert Mark Cullen on planting vegetables.
  4. Canada boasts thousands upon thousands of lakes and rivers. Start paddling. Instead of using a motorboat at the cottage, try a canoe or kayak for picking up small amounts of supplies or for having some fun on the lake or river. Make sure you wear a lifejacket.
  5. Walk your local or national park - or around the block or up the local hill in your neighbourhood. You should use a pace that won't make you short of breath, so you could carry on a conversation. "It's just a focused and determined pace, not brisk," says Dr. Arthur. Use a pedometer and count the number of steps you take. Aim for 5,000 to 10,000 a day. Stop when you need to. Every week, increase the amount of walking by 5 minutes. Go to Parks Canada to find a hiking trail near you.

Stay safe in the heat
It's easy to stay cool in the summer when you've got a lake or pool to jump into. When that's not a possibility, bring along lots of water to drink. You can lose a lot of water through perspiration during physically activity, especially in hot weather. Without sufficient water, your body can't keep you cool and this can cause heat exhaustion. Symptoms include dizziness, headache, increased heart rate and fatigue. Resting in a cool or shady area and drinking water can help get your body cool down. As long as you take these precautions, and talk to your doctor if you have any preexisting health conditions, then you are set to get active - indoors or out!

Posted: July 1, 2008

Heart and Stroke Foundation

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