Whatever your sport, you’re generally better off doing it outdoors. Apart from minor health hazards such as the pesky sand-flies in Hong Kong Park or the occasional wild boar in the New Territories, the fresh air and sunshine will do you good. Here’s seven reasons to exercise outdoors.
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. Benefits of sun exposure include strong bones and teeth, a healthy immune system, weight control, optimal blood pressure, serotonin for mood enhancement, and better, deeper sleep. But remember – never, ever get burnt. Wear a hat or a cap; monitor your exposure carefully; 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 air-conditioned gyms and other rooms where the air is recycled. But: When the horrible haze descends on Hong Kong, 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. Or, head out to the country parks on Lantau or the New Territories, where there are fewer cars and lower levels of pollution.
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 harm your body’s detoxification system.
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 take precautions against the wildlife – mozzies will be your biggest threat, but keep an eye out for snakes in the summer too.
With the whole of Hong Kong as your playground, you need never be bored. Instead of heading for the same four walls, join a yoga or tai chi class in the park, do a boot camp outdoors (lots of options around the island and in the New Territories), or walk or run one of the many hiking trails. If water sports are more your thing, and in HK we are surrounded by water, you can head further afield for stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, open water swimming and more! The options are endless – whether you’re into solo fitness or group classes.
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 Hong Kong 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 this town 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.
This article first appeared in the Jun/Jul edition of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue!
Want more reasons to take it outside? Check out these top Hong Kong beaches