Big surprise. Outdoor exercise more beneficial than the gym.

I missed last week's blog post because I was playing hooky, kayaking in the San Juan Islands with Sally. My last several posts have been the kind that leave me needing to play hooky, which is part of the activist's conundrum. The climate wars are heating up and getting ugly. A new generation of activists is getting more creative and aggressive in their tactics in taking on the fossil fuel giants. I've been tracking this rising intensity in the climate movement. I feel encouraged by what has been emerging within the movement, but it can also feel overwhelming. We are in a "long emergency" here, and even the most ardent climate warriors are going to have to figure out how to pace themselves. I don't know why it is so hard to do the things that sustain emotional balance, but it just seems to be how we are wired.

Anyway, with all this intensity in the air, my get-away to the San Juans was the first time in months that I've put my kayak in the water, and as usual, I wondered why I've waited so long. It was glorious being on the water, feeling the familiar tug of the paddle against tide and waves, the immensity of space around, below and above me, and the rejuvenating soundscape and aroma of the Salish Sea. What a tonic for the soul. With spring coming on, I've also been riding my bike almost daily again as well. For me, getting in my kayak or on my bike are the most reliable mood-enhancing drugs I know of. The benefits are hard to quantify, but undeniable.

There is something about being outside, unplugged, and physically vigorous, that is almost magical in its restorative powers. Gretchen Reynolds in the NY Times recently wrote that "emerging science suggests there are benefits to exercising outdoors that can’t be replicated on a treadmill, a recumbent bicycle or a track." Surprise, surprise! Whether walking, running or cycling, you burn more calories outside than indoors during comparable workouts, because of the added effort needed to adjust to changes in terrain, wind resistance, hills, etc.

"But there seem to be other, more ineffable advantages to getting outside to work out. In a number of recent studies, volunteers have been asked to go for two walks for the same time or distance — one inside, usually on a treadmill or around a track, the other outdoors. In virtually all of the studies, the volunteers reported enjoying the outside activity more and, on subsequent psychological tests, scored significantly higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem and lower on tension, depression and fatigue after they walked outside."

Strange that we need all these studies to tell us that. Mind you, I go to the gym for weight workouts once a week myself. But I remain bewildered by the impulse to take our whole active life indoors. We are creatures, after all, of the elemental world - the "great outdoors." Just like everything else in nature, we humans are fabricated of rock and wind and flowing water, literal expressions of the forces and elements that make up our physical bodies. We are psychological and spiritual extensions of the earthly matter that has molded itself over thousands of millennia into these transient forms that house the miracle of human consciousness.

Which is another way of saying, I'm going to go outside every chance I get. I won't be effective in the climate work I care so deeply about if my inner climate of heart and mind get thrown out of balance in the process.