Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
14 Feb

The Importance of Play, Long Walks and Outdoor Workouts, or Why the Optional Stuff Isn’t Actually Optional

Before I get to today’s Monday Musings I wanted to give a shout out and big thanks to everyone that came out the inaugural PAST in Southern California this weekend. It was wonderful meeting each of you in person. And because of you the first event was a smashing success. So thank you!

Coming out of the gate, this event surpassed my expectations by a large margin. 30 devoted Primal enthusiasts trekked from all over SoCal and even as far as Phoenix to spend 7 hours immersed in all matters Primal. We convened at Karma Crossfit in Manhattan Beach thanks to our gracious hostess Katy Rickman. I was particularly impressed by the knowledge and passion from the audience about the Primal Blueprint, and how quickly they absorbed and appreciated the message. The guests added so much to the event and kept me excited and energized for 7 hours, which I must admit is about twice as long as I’ve ever talked in a single day.

I’m really excited about the remaining dates on our PAST agenda, as is Brad Kearns, my writing partner who helped me create the presentation and will deliver several of the upcoming seminars. Whether you are a dabbler or a diehard Mark’s Daily Apple regular with a battered, dog-eared copy of the Primal Blueprint on your kitchen table, I promise that you will get tremendous value from the PAST seminar. Our able video director Bradford Hodgson filmed the entire event and we are preparing some select excerpts to help give you a sense of what PAST is all about – stay tuned! Now on to the Musings…

Contrary to popular belief, what many describe as optional is actually not optional in the pursuit of physical excellence. “Try working out outdoors” or “Go on a hike” is not just tentatively recommended advice to be discarded or glossed over. Long walks don’t belong in the miscellaneous category, and playing is as important as lifting heavy things. All this stuff – the play, being outdoors, the frequent bouts of moving slowly – is crucial. I should know this better than anyone, but I still forget. I’ll move my schedule around to fit in a circuit of dips, pullups, squats, and sprints, only to skip the forty-five minute walk I had planned that evening and screw around online reading blogs and papers instead. I am good about making the Ultimate game every week now, but I wasn’t always. These are areas where I need to improve. They’re weak spots for me – and, I gather, for a lot of you as well. Jobs, families, extracurricular responsibilities, and money get in the way and cannot be ignored, sure, but we also can’t ignore the demands of our ancient physiologies. So, in this week’s edition of Monday Musings, I’m going to briefly discuss a few bits of research that highlight the importance of fixing those weak spots.

They don’t call it the great outdoors for nothing, according to the authors of a recent systematic review of studies comparing outdoor workouts to indoor workouts. Overwhelmingly, outdoor workouts won. Outdoor workouts resulted in greater revitalization, increased energy, and more positive engagement, along with less depression, anger, confusion, and tension. While it would have been extremely cool if there were more decidedly “physical” benefits to working out outdoors, like “higher levels of protein synthesis in the lats when doing pullups from a tree branch” or “more recruitment of fast twitch muscle fibers when power cleaning a dew-soaked log,” the improvements to mental health are just as important. We can get the physical benefits of exercise anywhere, but exercise should be more than just protein synthesis and muscle fiber recruitment. Besides, the authors hope to do more research into the unique physical benefits – if they exist – of outdoor exercise. Off the top of my head, I’d guess that they’d come from increased buy-in/enthusiasm and maybe performance boosts from visualization/immersion. Also, consider the randomness of the wild; real hills are better than pre-programmed hill simulators.

What about play? People use both mind and body to play, as you well now. They cavort, they roughhouse, they dance, they gamble, they throw dice, they simulate war using pieces of plastic on a cardboard surface, they conduct complex sports games using rubber spheres, they form leagues around these sphere games, they follow professionals who play in such leagues for massive sums of money, they pose and solve puzzles and riddles. They play games and sports, and have been doing so for a long time. Archaeologists have been finding evidence of play in digs for years, but, because it’s “just” games, it gets ignored. A Swedish grad student, Elke Rogersdotter, who’s doing her thesis on the importance of play in the ancient world, sees it differently. She’s been studying a recently excavated 4000-year old city in current-day Pakistan. Gaming artifacts, like dice and game pieces, are turning up in every tenth find from the city. And they aren’t scattered around randomly; they’re concentrated in certain areas and there are patterns to their dispersal, suggesting dedicated gaming sites and a large formal role for play in the Bronze Age city. The evidence places play at 4,000 years, but I’d say the spirit of gaming has been around for far longer. As more archaeologists wise up to the role of play in human history, expect for that official number to get a whole lot bigger. Maybe we’ll even get some physical anthropologists weighing in on the subject.

How about walking? Researchers found that a year of walking forty minutes a day, three days a week, increased the size of the hippocampus by 2% in a group of older sedentary adults. Another group, same demographics, did a year of yoga and lost hippocampus mass – 1.4%. Losing that much mass is pretty normal for the age group (mid to late 60s), but adding any, let alone 2%? That’s significant. Spatial memory improved in both groups, with the walking group seeing the biggest improvements. In fact, hippocampus size increases correlated with memory improvements. Easy neurogenesis – not a bad deal, eh? Try pairing your walking with some strength training for even better results.

I don’t think playing games, spending time outside, and going for a few walks each week are burdens. On the contrary, they’re essential. So why do we treat them like they’re optional?

They aren’t.

What do you think, readers? Do you treat certain Primal lifestyle behaviors as if they were optional? Do you find value in play, long walks and outdoor workouts in your own life? Let me know in the comment board!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Wish you could make it to Reno…

    Chris wrote on February 14th, 2011
  2. i read “hippopotamus” not “hippocampus,” and i thought to myself, how did they run that study? how do you make hippos do yoga?

    then i read it again.

    Zoebird wrote on February 14th, 2011
    • hahahaha! :) thank you…

      Raj wrote on February 14th, 2011
    • Glad I found this post. In the Northeast, winters can get brutal, a fact that has done a number on my walking schedule. It’s not just the cold. It’s also the snow, the sleet and the ice some of which may not melt for weeks at a time. This can make walking or jogging outside tough and a little bit dangerous. Any suggestions? In the meantime, I’ve been taking Zumba classes to maintain my fun quotient, but I’d really like to get out for some air more often.

      Riza wrote on February 14th, 2011
      • You got snow, I say work with it.

        Build a snowman.
        Go sledding.
        Engage in a snowball fight.

        It only comes once a year, right?

        chipin wrote on February 14th, 2011
        • Riza, our family bought Stabilicers which are a kind of cleats for walking on ice. They or their kin work great. They also help with traction when shoveling snow. And there is at least one jogger in town that has some version of these to jog in.

          Also bought a Wovel for snow shoveling which has allowed my neighbor and I to shovel our HUGE shared driveway this winter rather than hiring a plow.

          I am sure we have moved tons of snow already. I favor doing this rather than lifting weights. However, after shoveling, I have no energy for winter play. But then, I am an old person.

          Sharon wrote on February 15th, 2011
        • For some of us, snow came in November and it’s still here!

          Page wrote on February 15th, 2011
    • I read it “hippopotamus” as well..most confusing couple of sentences! Took about the 4th try before I realized my mistake. :)

      LV wrote on February 15th, 2011
    • haha, i read the same. was so confused.

      Anya wrote on February 15th, 2011
  3. As I have added exercise back into my life, I have treated the long walks without less commitment than the strength training; however I think the basic movement piece is probably the underpinning that I need to make sure I do almost every day.

    Tim Huntley wrote on February 14th, 2011
  4. Wish I were less of a wimp about getting out for a walk when it’s cold. My body is telling me to hibernate or go to a warm gym for yoga.

    Danielle wrote on February 14th, 2011
    • I used to have that problem until I bought a 650-fill down coat with a giant hood that covers my face … now I sweat on the Subway, but don’t often find myself overly cold. (I *hate* cold, so this was a remarkable life change.)

      WildShan wrote on February 14th, 2011
  5. I prefer to workout outside, and have set up a pull up bar under my deck, have two slosh pipes, and two sledge hammers and a tire. Unfortunately it works best for summer and autumn, but not so great for winter and spring (it snows a lot in Colorado in spring.

    But yesterday it was almost 70 degrees and I went for a 90 minute walk and stopped at three playgrounds along the way to do pull ups.

    The thing I need to work on more is play. Definitely don’t do enough of that.

    Dave Fish wrote on February 14th, 2011
  6. I try to let only the wet weather keep me indoors. Otherwise, I’ve found it easier to keep the habit of walking up by incorporating small grocery trips into my outing. I choose the farthest of three local stores if I can (about 3 miles away) and take along a backpack.

    atljohn wrote on February 14th, 2011
  7. I’ve been walking an hour a day at least five days a week since mid-August. Now I crave being outdoors. I actually have tan lines despite use of sunscreen (we live in coastal NSW Australia and some days it’s just esssential) and I don’t think I’ve had any tanning color on my face and arms since I was a child.

    Shelli wrote on February 14th, 2011
  8. I’m sitting here soaking wet, having hiked in the rain for an hour so I’m pleased to read this.

    Walking in the wet or the cold and especially both is invigorating.

    Alison Golden wrote on February 14th, 2011
    • Me thinks your cold and wet is slightly different from my northern Scottish version :-)

      Kelda wrote on February 15th, 2011
  9. I found out even 15 minute walk after dinner is way more important or as important doing sprints. it improves digestion, improves your sleep and unbeliavably all you eat is somehow disapprears..i guess it activates the 15 minutes walk or activity of any kind after each meal is mandatory for me

    salim wrote on February 14th, 2011
  10. I would rather miss a workout than a long walk.

    Kent Hawley wrote on February 14th, 2011
  11. wow, funny timing. I’ve been holed up in my house for the winter. I finally had an off day and a sitter, so i hit the gym for a good 2 hours! I started with the crossfit WOD, then I walked 4 miles+ while reading one of my business books. up hill, slow, fast, a few sprints…. I really amazed myself that I kept going… It made me realize how I just run into the gym, lift heavy, sprint a little, and leave usually (limited on time!) and I havent been replacing the park walking like I was doing last year…. thanks for the validation!

    ILovePrimal wrote on February 14th, 2011
  12. What keeps me walking is my dog. We walk for about 30-45 minutes a day and there are only rare exceptions. I agree that walking in bad weather and cold is invigorating. If you can dress for it or tough it out it adds more adventure. I tell myself that I can’t do the WOW or LHT if I haven’t put in some good walks. What I have a problem keeping up with are sprints. I do tabata burpees followed by tabata squat thrusts on sprint days. Maybe I’ll try an everyother week rotation.

    Gorm wrote on February 14th, 2011
    • I agree – most days my dog gets 2-3 20 minute walks from me (never mind the ones my husband gives him) – but the rest of it is harder to fit in…but I am getting there.


      Kerstin wrote on February 14th, 2011
  13. 45 minute walk, 3 days a week?

    Real easy. Gonna start doing that

    College Caveman wrote on February 14th, 2011
  14. Mark, I know it’s easy to forget what season it is when you live in Southern California–I’m originally from there, too, but I’m currently in the Midwest, in February, where the logs are most definitely not “dew-soaked.” I know it’s quite possible to get a good workout outside in the dead of winter, but it sure doesn’t seem as appealing as the mental image I get when I hear, “Exercise outdoors!” It’d be really cool (no pun intended) if you could do a post sometime about winter-specific activities, or advice on maintaining normal activities during the dark, windy, sludgy months!

    Kay wrote on February 14th, 2011
    • If you have access to a garage on the cold, snowy and/or rainy days try pulling out the car and leaving the door up while you workout. I live in MD and today I am finaly seeing signs that spring is finaly on its way!

      Gorm wrote on February 14th, 2011
    • Another midwesterner here, and I hear you! BUT I have the opportunity to cross country ski every day with my dog, and it’s so awesome to be able to be outside. Nothing like a snowy day with lots of sunshine, out on a desolate golf course. Talk about immersion!

      Sam wrote on February 15th, 2011
  15. I do WODs three times a week. But the two walk days are the best. I play golf,walk all 18 holes and carry my 20 lbs bag. What could be more primal. I pretend I am carrying meal that I killed with golf ball.

    jack wrote on February 14th, 2011
    • If I had to eat what I killed with a golf ball, I would have starved a long, long time ago. Maybe I could track my prey with my slice into the woods!

      Jason wrote on February 15th, 2011
  16. There was a show on PBS a couple months ago about how the variety of experience is just as important as the amount of activity in preserving mental youth and acuity. One of the activities they mentioned was geocaching. There’s a great description and lots of resources about this at, but in a nutshell, it’s like combining a hike with a treasure hunt, using a handheld GPS unit. Check it out!

    Eric Schmitz wrote on February 14th, 2011
  17. I love outside! Every day that it doesn’t rain, I am outside for at least 45 minutes. If my job and the weather allowed, I would spend hours rambling around outside in the woods or in the mountains. Alas, it rains an average of 5 days a week here in the winter and spring and I am not a huge fan of being wet and cold…..

    Mary wrote on February 14th, 2011
  18. There’s nothing quite like a Canadian winter to get you outside – have been lifting shovel-fulls of snows quite a bit lately and it feels great!

    Cha Cha wrote on February 14th, 2011
    • That’s pretty much been my outdoor workout for the last week in Indiana, too. Nearly 7 hours of chipping away at ice and snow (and that was just the two days I spent clearing tiny little paths for my wheels in the driveway) had me feeling fantastic for days!

      Naptown Girl wrote on February 14th, 2011
  19. I’d never knock walking. But as to your citation “Another group, same demographics, did a year of yoga and lost hippocampus mass – 1.4%…”

    Well, if that was sitting around and doing some light stretching, I can believe it. But try some CorePower Yoga sometime, where you flow through complicated balancing postures and work your muscles.

    I doubt that the group they were studying were doing many headstands or sun salutations. I’ve seen many professional athletes (football pros and basketball pros) flat on the floor halfway through Bikram or CorePower sessions

    Ursus Minor wrote on February 14th, 2011
    • agreed! i do bikram 2 times a week, sometimes 3 and there is no way, mass is lost!

      Junie B wrote on February 15th, 2011
  20. Although i live in a grimy, stinking city like London, i still walk everywhere. This equates to about 1.5 hrs a day just walking. The pollution is awful but i cannot do anything about that. When i go to my folks in the country, i will walk for 2 hrs +. It’s simply the best exercise imo.

    Rocco wrote on February 14th, 2011
  21. Okay, Its raining and 45 degrees outside. My wife is taking a nap. What should I do? I invested in rain gear for days like today. So, Out I go! thanks for the motivation!

    Matt Muller wrote on February 14th, 2011
  22. I wish that activity was more integrated into my lifestyle. Unfortunately, I find it a lot easier to schedule blocks of time for more intense activity at the gym, rather than just being active.

    Erica wrote on February 14th, 2011
  23. I live on the edge of a small canyon in the Texas Hill country. Literally — my backyard slopes right down towards it.

    MY favorite daily activity (well at least 3-4x per week): hit a small bag of golf balls from my backyard to other side of canyon. Then I let my dogs out, and we hike own into the canyon — there I have some large rocks (50-150 lbs in range) that I use for cleans, clean and jerk, sumo dead lifts, and heavy walks. Then the dogs and I hike up the side of the canyon and hunt golf balls. All followed by a hike back home.

    Play, walk, time with my dogs, plus a little strength training. Love it.

    RobbieC wrote on February 14th, 2011
  24. But its cold and raining cats n dogs all week long here :(:(:(


    I just got your cookbook in the mail – its awesome!

    Earthspirit wrote on February 14th, 2011
  25. Dogs are pretty useful for forcing long walks — so they aren’t optional around here.

    It would be interesting to determine why walking increase the hippocamus and yoga did not — maybe navigating though open space?

    Page wrote on February 14th, 2011
  26. As a city slicker, I must say that I must find a way to get outside more. For those of you who consider yourself more “Primal”, how much of that lifestyle choice would you say was/is influenced by your upbringing, whether environmental, or the habits of those that were the closest to you growing up?

    Alvin - Six Pack Training wrote on February 14th, 2011
    • I was totally influenced by my mother. She walked everywhere and was still square dancing at 90. All her daughters prefer walking and our children are walkers as well.

      Sharon wrote on February 15th, 2011
  27. I am new two your site and your publications. And I LIKE them ALL!!

    Is there any way that you could limit your blog posts to say 500 words each?

    There is just too much to read each day.

    With appreciation,


    Carl wrote on February 14th, 2011
    • Whaaat? Don’t listen to him Mark please, I am always disappointed not to have MORE to read..Thanks by the way for all your great posts.

      Dear Carl, what about reading only one article out of 2? You can save half for the next day 😉

      Anais wrote on February 15th, 2011
  28. Since there are no gyms in my area, I’ve had to make a living off of finding ways to work out outdoors, in any kind of weather. Even when I’m back in the states and around gyms, I plan on still going down to the local park to get my workouts in. Can’t beat it! Plus, if you get up early enough, it’s pretty sweet to sprint towards the sunrise.

    Matthew Myers wrote on February 14th, 2011
  29. Today’s most popular forms of yoga combines two things that have been touted on this site – meditation and body-weight strength work. That article said the subjects did “stretching” – to conflate that with “yoga” and advocate walking as the better exercise for your brain is a little sloppy.

    Sara Grace wrote on February 14th, 2011
    • Yes, Mark is mostly wrong about the control group. The linked post describes the control group as engaging in “stretching”.

      In the abstract, the actual published article describes the control group as being assigned to “stretching and toning”. In the paper, the control protocol is described as follows:

      “For the stretching and toning control program, all sessions were led and monitored by trained exercise leaders. All classes started and ended with warm-up and cool-down stretching. During each class, participants engaged in four muscle-toning exercises using dumbbells or resistance bands, two exercises designed to improve balance, one yoga sequence, and one exercise of their choice. To maintain interest, a new group of exercises was introduced every 3 wk. During the first week, participants focused on becoming familiar with the new exercises, and during the second and third weeks they were encouraged to increase the intensity by using more weight or adding more repetitions.”

      The published article may actually strengthen Mark’s argument, however, by describing a larger variety of exercises engaged in by the control group.

      Skip long walks at your peril (if you want to remember why you have such amazing upper body strength at 70).

      Steve wrote on February 14th, 2011
  30. Not sure how you manage to zero in on stuff I’m currently ruminating on Mark, but there you go again. Spooky.

    In spite of enjoying a lot of progress with CrossFit over the last six months, I’ve recently been going through fatigue and resistance to doing the workouts at all. It hit me that this is in part due to my lack of “moving slowly at a frequent pace.” I am sad to say that outside of the gym I still spend most of my time on my butt, either in front of a computer screen, an easel, or even the teevee. That’s kinda like taking my body from “off” to “sixty” (in the cold) instead of allowing it to rumble around and warm up a little bit before punching the gas.

    This week I’ve started walking every day, for an hour or so, on the days I’m not in the gym. That takes care of the “outdoor” part as well, living in gorgeous Colorado. We’ll see how this plan goes. I suspect it will be just the thing I needed.

    Julie wrote on February 14th, 2011
  31. The Great Outdoors is mandatory. Without my daily fresh air I go a little crazy.

    Dawn wrote on February 14th, 2011
  32. Just got myself a new puppy. Can’t wait til ahe gets a bit older and I can go on long walks with her. Will give me a reason not to skip on the walking

    Greg wrote on February 14th, 2011
  33. I really enjoy my walks with the wife. The weather has been nuts in the South lately so we haven’t been able to go on them as often as we’d like.

    The weather has been beautiful lately though, so we are definitely getting back into the routine.

    When I’m out in the sun for a little bit every day I just feel better. Imagine that.

    Trey Crowe wrote on February 14th, 2011
  34. Now that it is FINALLY getting warmer in Grand Rapids, MI a 45 minute walk 3 times a week sounds exhilarating!

    Playing outside? Sure, now its warm! Round of golf anyone? 3 Hour hike? Oh, thats play and exercise!

    I need to move to Cali so I can do this stuff year round…

    Primal Toad wrote on February 14th, 2011
  35. We live in Oregon and try to go for a walk almost every day… even in the rain. :) There is no wrong weather… just wrong clothing.

    Grok on!

    Ute wrote on February 14th, 2011
  36. Walking and being outdoors is not a problem for me I am a letter carrier on a walking route 5 hours 5 days a week are spent walking out of doors.What I can’t seem to do is play I haven’t played in years.The excuse is a lack of free time but truthfully I avoid it.I don’t really know how to play I guess.

    Lance wrote on February 14th, 2011
    • I guess you just haven’t yet found a game or activity that grabs you. There’s gotta be one out there! :)

      DThalman wrote on February 14th, 2011
  37. High energy dog. I’m outside walking her 45 minutes twice a day. I average about ten to twelve of those walks a week, and we fit in our sprinting and lifting as we go. My whole exercise program is built around those walks.

    Ken wrote on February 14th, 2011

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