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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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February 14, 2011

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

By Mark Sisson
123 Comments

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!

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

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Chris
Chris
5 years 7 months ago

Wish you could make it to Reno…

Zoebird
5 years 7 months ago

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.

Raj
Raj
5 years 7 months ago

hahahaha! 🙂 thank you…

Riza
Riza
5 years 7 months ago

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.

chipin
chipin
5 years 7 months ago

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?

Sharon
Sharon
5 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Page
Page
5 years 7 months ago

For some of us, snow came in November and it’s still here!

LV
LV
5 years 7 months ago

I read it “hippopotamus” as well..most confusing couple of sentences! Took about the 4th try before I realized my mistake. 🙂

Anya
5 years 7 months ago

haha, i read the same. was so confused.

Tim Huntley
5 years 7 months ago

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.

Danielle
5 years 7 months ago

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.

WildShan
5 years 7 months ago

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.)

Dave Fish
5 years 7 months ago

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.

atljohn
atljohn
5 years 7 months ago

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.

Shelli
Shelli
5 years 7 months ago

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.

Alison Golden
5 years 7 months ago

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.

Kelda
5 years 7 months ago

Me thinks your cold and wet is slightly different from my northern Scottish version 🙂

salim
5 years 7 months ago

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 metabolism..so 15 minutes walk or activity of any kind after each meal is mandatory for me

Kent Hawley
Kent Hawley
5 years 7 months ago

I would rather miss a workout than a long walk.

ILovePrimal
5 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
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Gorm
Gorm
5 years 7 months ago

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.

Kerstin
Kerstin
5 years 7 months ago

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.

🙂

College Caveman
5 years 7 months ago

45 minute walk, 3 days a week?

Real easy. Gonna start doing that

Kay
Kay
5 years 7 months ago

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!

Gorm
Gorm
5 years 7 months ago

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!

Sam
Sam
5 years 7 months ago

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!

jack
jack
5 years 7 months ago

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.

Jason
Jason
5 years 7 months ago

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!

Eric Schmitz
5 years 7 months ago

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 http://www.geocaching.com, but in a nutshell, it’s like combining a hike with a treasure hunt, using a handheld GPS unit. Check it out!

Mary
Mary
5 years 7 months ago

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…..

Cha Cha
Cha Cha
5 years 7 months ago

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!

Naptown Girl
Naptown Girl
5 years 7 months ago

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!

Ursus Minor
Ursus Minor
5 years 7 months ago

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

Junie B
5 years 7 months ago

agreed! i do bikram 2 times a week, sometimes 3 and there is no way, mass is lost!

Rocco
Rocco
5 years 7 months ago

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.

Matt Muller
Matt Muller
5 years 7 months ago

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!

Erica
5 years 7 months ago

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.

RobbieC
5 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Earthspirit
Earthspirit
5 years 7 months ago

But its cold and raining cats n dogs all week long here :(:(:(

BUT

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

Page
Page
5 years 7 months ago

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?

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Alvin - Six Pack Training
5 years 7 months ago

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?

Sharon
Sharon
5 years 7 months ago

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.

Carl
5 years 7 months ago

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

Anais
Anais
5 years 7 months ago

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 😉

Matthew Myers
5 years 7 months ago

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.

Sara Grace
5 years 7 months ago

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.

Steve
Steve
5 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Julie
5 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Dawn
Dawn
5 years 7 months ago

The Great Outdoors is mandatory. Without my daily fresh air I go a little crazy.

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[…] Article courtesy of Mark’s Daily Apple Until we adopted Luna, I didn’t even realize how little we walked outside. I sit in front of a computer all day for my other business, then headed to the gym for a workout…the extent of my walking was walking downstairs to my computer and then to the car. Now we are walking Luna a minimum of 45-60 minutes per day through our hilly neighborhood, plus longer hikes on the weekend. Not only has it been fun to just walk my dog, but just being outside (especially in this gorgeous pre-spring weather) has… Read more »
Greg
Greg
5 years 7 months ago

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

Trey Crowe
5 years 7 months ago

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.

Primal Toad
5 years 7 months ago

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…

Ute
5 years 7 months ago

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!

Lance
Lance
5 years 7 months ago

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.

DThalman
DThalman
5 years 7 months ago

I guess you just haven’t yet found a game or activity that grabs you. There’s gotta be one out there! 🙂

Ken
5 years 7 months ago

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.

BenK
5 years 7 months ago

Can’t wait to get a dog soon.

DThalman
DThalman
5 years 7 months ago

Yeah like Ute says, that’s the Oregon slogan…there’s no such thing as bad weather only inappropriate clothing! I was having 2nd thoughts about riding my mountain bike up a local hill yesterday afternoon though, as it was a chilly ride down. Worth it though. Even though it meant I got behind on chores. I do tend to tell myself the fun outdoors is for when the work is done. Too Puritan! Then again, stuff has to get done.

fritzy
fritzy
5 years 7 months ago

Go for a 20 minute walk/slow jog outside at lunchtime every day now. It is my favorite part of the day, hands down and makes the rest of the day go by like a breeze. I can’t even imagine my work day without this daily activity–like hitting the reset button. Makes a bad day good and a good day even better!

The Primalist
5 years 7 months ago

“So why do we treat them like they’re optional?”

Maybe because it seems too easy? People are less likely to skip something like a workout because we equate a large amount of effort with a large reward.. so it seems okay to skip on the easy stuff, which appears less likely to be beneficial anyways.. on the contrary, maybe walking/playing/being outdoors is the low-hanging fruit that we should be going after first..

kem
kem
5 years 7 months ago

I count myself lucky. I get to spend more time out than in. Well, it’s good when the weather is tolerable… Casual two hour ride (latte stop half-way) today.

forty years ago I was always kj. always liked that.

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MarkinPNW
MarkinPNW
5 years 7 months ago
A couple of years ago I started having chest pain and ended up with a stent, and as part of therapy they had me working out in a gym. Then a year ago I had to get another stent, and I finally switched my workout to walking and sprinting outdoors. I walk 3-4 time a week at the beach, and include scrambling up a 20 foot high rock when the rock is not too wet and slippery, and I practice balancing on narrow logs along the beach. I very rarely see the gym anymore, though I do add some light… Read more »
Gerry Endres
5 years 7 months ago
Thanks for the butt kick with this blog. I sure needed it. I tend to suffer from the cold-wet-overcast day blues (blahs) and want to hibernate my life away. This morning I was up and dressed and out of doors for my hour walk before daylight arrived. I was up early enough to hear the “break of dawn” this morning and watch/hear the birds come to life with their early feeding and the beginnings of their spring courtship. I even met a new friend on my journey, a beagle-bassett mix, who decided to join me in my frigid (20 degree)… Read more »
Peter
Peter
5 years 7 months ago

I have walked an hour (or shoveled-more) all but a handful of days here in Boston during one of the more brutal winters we’ve had in a while. You will be cold for maybe 10 minutes then the internal heat from the exercise should warm you up. I recommend a balaclava for the windy days. No excuses.

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5 years 7 months ago

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