Thursday, June 14, 2012

Outdoor exercise as enrichment

Creating a Northwoods exercise routine

Before we start, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Seth Carlson and I was born in Park Falls in 1987. I grew up in a family that like many others in this area holds outdoor skills as a deeply ingrained, cultural tradition. My father taught me how to hunt, fish, trap, hike, camp, canoe, swim and make a lot of noise if I saw a bear. I learned how to dress in layers and check lake ice in the winter. I learned how to ignore mosquitoes while fishing and get over a fear of spiders in the summers.

The funny thing is, I took all those experiences for granted. It took a seven-year journey of living in other areas of the Midwest for me to appreciate what the Northwoods has to offer – the great outdoors.

This piece is the first in a series of stories meant to highlight ways in which residents of this area can take advantage of the natural resources surrounding us. I do not pretend to be an expert with any of this, just a student. I am always learning new things in the woods, just enough to get by, just enough to be woodsman enough.

While I attended Park Falls High School from 2001-2005 I was not active in sports, aside from a year on the freshman football team. In fact, I reserved very little regard for sports at all as I was uncoordinated and generally had a problem with authority.

Now days, however, I am responsible for my own health, and I’ve learned that taking care of myself means a lot more than running laps around a gymnasium. Wellness as an adult means learning how to stay active, while still having fun.

A few weeks ago I hopped on my mountain bike, peddled 18 miles east on highway 182 out of Park Falls, swam 300 yards across a lake, went through a routine of pushups and situps, then swam back across the lake, dried off, and biked the 18 miles back into town. Maybe that sounds crazy, or absurd, or even a waste of time, but I'm about to convince you that it was zen, relaxing, stress relieving, and that you can do it too.

When was the last time you challenged yourself? When was the last time you really pushed yourself, your mind, your body just for the sake of saying you could? I ask because if you're not asking yourself this question, maybe it's time to. Maybe it's time to start jogging, or biking, or climbing up trees or even just go for a walk to enjoy your neighborhood. Don’t think I’m poking at you for avoiding these things; I just want you to think about it.

We are fortunate enough to have a bounty of clean, accessible, pristine forests in this area, and all too often we under-utilize them. All too often we don't see them. This Northwoods of ours is packed full of wildlife, of native flora and fauna that we take for granted every single day.

The proposition I make of you today is take a second -- no take a couple of hours or maybe a day -- to challenge yourself in your environment. Induce stress upon your body in a new way, and you will find a new perspective. Do that in the vast outdoors and you'll have a brand new, or perhaps rekindled connection to the land in which you live. Take some time to work on your relationship with your environment, let it enrich you, and you it.

To get started, try this - pick out an hour and a half someday this week to use for outdoor exercise. Next, decide upon a location. I recommend a park, campground, or lakeside if you're looking for just one location, otherwise map out a route through town or down a county highway if you plan on walking, jogging, or biking. All that's left to do now is get outside and stick to your plan. Simple, right?

Performing your workout outside in the elements will intensify the feeling of freedom and enrich your experience ten-fold. Breathe deep and be loud; feel every footstep or pushup translate from yourself into the Earth and reinforce how alive you are, how immediately you exist.

Of course, exposing yourself to the elements may not always seem like the most fun, especially when the weather is not cooperative. My suggestion here is to conquer that rainy, cold, cloudy, windy day and go anyway. You will begin to build confidence as you realize you're not made out of glass, and overcoming weather obstacles like these will teach you how to deal with adversity, making you more rounded and more complete in your mission to connect and feel alive.

The barrier many of us hit when attempting to exercise more is internal; we imagine a threshold that is too big to overcome. We say that we're too out of shape to know where to begin, or we feel self conscious about how we will appear to other people when the fact of the matter is everyone else is just as nervous, and if you are waiting for someone else to come along and grant you the courage to take charge of your health, well, you'll be waiting all of your life.

Everyone will find a best method for her or himself, but what it really comes down to is finding something that motivates you, that you can focus on. It's also important to be able to set small goals for yourself so you can measure your progress. One suggestion is to pick a race or event that you can work toward participating in. Another suggestion might be to make a pact with a friend or family member to participate with so that each of you can motivate the other.

Summer is the perfect time to start a routine like this and take advantage of the warm weather while it sticks around. Also remember that whatever sort of exercise you choose, you’re in complete control of your comfort level, and while I might encourage you to get intense out there, start slow if need be; the most important thing you can do is start.

This county is filled with natural, living, breathing beauty. It is our greatest resource, and my goal this week is to inspire you to get out in it. If nothing else, enjoy a walk every now and then, and think about how much it means to have that fresh, clean air in your lungs.

On a side note, if you found this article interesting or not, I would love to hear from you. I take feedback seriously, and want to hear your opinion on these sorts of topics. Therefore, I encourage you to email me your comments and feedback on these articles so that they can continue to improve.

I’ll see you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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