You know how it goes. Late December, sitting on the couch with a notepad — or a smartphone planning app — trying to think of a few innovative but manageable ways to be a better person in the new year. Among prompts to call home more often and floss regularly, upping your physical activity is likely to make the list. This is tough for many of us because, well, it requires physical activity, often early in the morning or at the end of the day when you’d much rather just post up on that same couch. Especially when that activity is done outdoors.
But plenty of studies have shown the health benefits of spending more active time outside. To help you plan and execute this resolution, we spoke with Amy Bruski. An outdoors professional and a Local Experience Instructor at REI, Bruski leads outdoors tours through the San Francisco Bay area and is an accomplished cyclist, both in the mountains and on the road. Here are her tips for building, and sticking to, an outdoor exercise routine.
Keep a positive mindset.
Bruski starts with a dose of positivity. “I appreciate the beginner mindset and encourage all growth towards an outdoor lifestyle,” she says. “I am not a physician or literary scholar, but I love to share my lessons learned and what has worked for me on a human level.”
Granted, for her, the “human level” includes completing epic feats on a bicycle such as the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race, the Death Ride, and the Everest Challenge Road Race. But let’s not get intimidated. This can be as small as a jog around the neighborhood park or a walk down a local trail. Start small, and build from there.
Set goals and work backward to accomplish them.
The good news is that by jotting down your intentions, you’re already off to a good start.
“I am most comfortable when I have a plan or have set goals,” Bruski says. “My plans usually have a purpose or a reasonably obtainable goal, a timeline or schedule and notes or log to track progress.”
So before you take off running, have an end goal in mind, like running a few miles three times per week, at a set time of day. Start small, and work your way up.
“If I was trying hiking for the first time I would start with a local park,” Bruski says. “Checking the website will give me some insight for what to expect from the trails and may have some feedback, tips, or reviews from fellow hikers that have enjoyed the trails.” She encourages outdoor recreators of all kinds to check REI’s trail apps for local routes and tips.
Measure your progress and celebrate small accomplishments.
Bruski notes that being able to see your progress is key to feeling good about the process, and to staying motivated.
“I am a goal setter. I do it in my daily routine and I challenge myself at every opportunity,” she says. “For example, I wanted to drink more water so I bought a clear 48 fluid ounce Nalgene bottle. I give myself the day to drink it starting when I wake up in the morning and I want to be done by 5:00 PM. My goal is clear, the achievement is obtainable, and progress is noticeable.”
There are undoubtedly going to be days when you don’t feel like exercising even though it’s on your schedule to do so. When this happens, success comes down to the first step in the process.
“When I am not feeling motivated I will tell myself to just get on and turn the pedals,” Bruski says. “Because I love it so much it works every time. After a few loops around the neighborhood, I usually want more and will ride longer or get more serious for that day’s activity. Variety is also a requirement for me. I love to plan new ride/run/hiking routes. When I set a new route I can’t stop thinking about it until I do it, then I do it and I want to improve it. So it is this thrilling cycle of planning, goal setting, discovery, satisfaction, and joy.”
Find an accountability partner.
Staying active outdoors is similar to working on a team project at school or work in the sense that having someone else along to share the ride often pushes both people to do a better job. This can be a partner, friend, or a meetup group, as long as that person or group is at a similar ability level and shares the same end goal.
“I do think having a partner in exercise or outdoor activity can be helpful,” Bruski says. “A partner needs to be like-minded in goals and purpose. Someone who has a similar motivation and also has a supportive nature.”
She adds, however, that it will take personal motivation and the ability to count on yourself above other people to make your resolution stick.
“Sometimes, you will have to go solo,” Bruski says. “Discovering your ability to motivate, learn, and succeed for yourself is extremely satisfying and will only enhance your outdoor adventures.”