Outdoor activities benefit physical, mental health

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John Groefsema, assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 366, provides ankle support, repetition count and encouragement as his 11-year-old son, Boy Scout Harm Groefsema, does sit-ups to work on his physical fitness for Scouting March 23 at Normandy Field. The Groefsemas, including 14-year-old Arlin, also jogged around the track and kicked a football during their exercise outing while maintaining social distancing, staying at least six feet away from other track users, as recommended to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

Katie Peterson | Staff Writer

All of the fitness facilities on Fort Leavenworth officially closed March 24 because of COVID-19 precautions, but that doesn’t mean that the chance for exercise is gone.

Fort Leavenworth residents are still permitted to exercise outdoors as long as proper social distancing is observed, and research has shown that outdoor exercise is actually better for overall physical and mental health.

“When you are underneath the sun, it regulates your hormones and helps stimulate serotonin levels in your body,” said Karyn Smith, International Science Sports Association certified personal trainer and sports nutritionist. “Your body is always trying its best to create homeostasis, which is pretty much just trying to get your heart rate to be the same, your blood levels to be the same, sugar levels to be the same and, believe it or not, your weight to be the same. …When we’re trying to create homeostasis that’s a healthy body.”

Smith works as a personal trainer at both Gruber Fitness Center and Harney Sports Complex, and leads group fitness classes including indoor cycling, power pump and high-intensity interval training, but she said taking time to exercise outside provides extra benefits that organized inside exercise does not.

Fourteen-year-old Arlin Groefsema practices place kicking in anticipation of playing on the Lansing High School football team next season March 23 at Normandy Field. Arlin visited the track with his father John Groefsema and 11-year-old brother Harm for a bit of exercise and some fresh air during the stay-at-home order put in place to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Outdoor activities, including running, hiking and walking dogs alone or with members of the same household are permitted, but playdates, gatherings at parks and the like with anyone outside one’s immediate household are not. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

“People just being outside puts them in a different, bigger picture that helps them be more appreciative of their natural surroundings. Sometimes it is just remembering that there is beauty beyond the four walls that you’re enclosed in,” Smith said. “Plus, exercising outside has variables that you cannot create inside. Variables are things such as temperature or precipitation.

“Your body needs variables to figure out its surroundings, and it makes you more mentally aware, and it makes you more reactive,” she said. “Our bodies are made to adjust. We’re supposed to go through seasons of change. When you don’t get those seasons of change you will actually continue to decrease hormone stimulation.”

There are several exercises people can do outside, Smith said, including power walks and jogging for cardiovascular health, and body-weight strength exercises like planks, and triceps dips and incline push-ups using a step or bench.

“Just doing these exercises outside stimulates sweat,” Smith said. “Most people are eating a lot of packaged foods right now, so their body is swimming with toxins, but they’re not sweating and releasing the toxins.”

Exercising outside helps with mental well-being, too, Smith said.

“Morning or evening walks create calm and peaceful thoughts,” Smith said. “An evening walk outside helps you balance your mood and morning walks can help energize you to be more motivated.

“I’m passionate about having a spiritual side of your life, so just being aware of things like love and purpose, sometimes when you’re outside you can feel and be more connected to that,” she said.

Post offers several different places for people to get outside, including the parks near the housing communities and the floodplain trails near Sherman Army Airfield.

Neil Bass, Directorate of Public Works natural resources specialist, is currently preparing a grant request to the National Environmental Education Foundation, which, if approved, will allow Bass to incorporate more health and wellness activities around the trail with the help of Smith and other health experts.

For a map of the trails, visit https://leavenworth.armymwr.com/promos/fort-leavenworth-multi-use-nature-trail.

Maj. Jamie Vincent, Command and General Staff Officer Course student, encourages her sons 2-year-old Robert and 5-year-old Richard to race while getting some fresh air and exercise March 23 at Normandy Field. Vincent had gone for a run earlier that day while her husband kept the children occupied, then she took them out for some recreation and a break that afternoon. Outdoor activities and physical exercise are still possible despite the stay-at-home order currently in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

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