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. Can’t wait to get a dog soon.

    BenK wrote on February 14th, 2011
  2. 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.

    DThalman wrote on February 14th, 2011
  3. 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!

    fritzy wrote on February 14th, 2011
  4. “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..

    The Primalist wrote on February 14th, 2011
  5. 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.

    kem wrote on February 14th, 2011
  6. 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 weight training and calisthenics indoors once or twice a week. Hmm, maybe I can start picking up and lifting or throwing the logs at the beach for more variety of workout (something I haven’t thought of before). It rains a lot here, but it usually takes a combination of freezing cold, rain, and high winds to stop my outdoor workout. Then again, maybe it’s just not having the correct outdoor gear for the extreme conditions.

    MarkinPNW wrote on February 14th, 2011
  7. 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) morning adventure. I dearly loved it.

    Brrrr! I am ready for my nap now. I earned it.

    Gerry Endres wrote on February 15th, 2011
  8. 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.

    Peter wrote on February 15th, 2011
  9. I know Mark has poked a little fun at Disc Golf in a post or two, but I love it. It isn’t as physically intense or competitive as Ultimate, but it is still a fun way to spend 1 1/2 to 2 hours walking outdoors. It’s pretty inexpensive to buy gear($10-$12 for a disc) and free to play. It’s also a great way to meet people who also enjoy being outdoors.

    I also second the post from above about playing real golf and walking the course with your clubs. What a great way to spend an afternoon!

    JoeKC wrote on February 15th, 2011
  10. @Riza

    I live in the same conditions(Sweden). I turn to x-country skiing once the snow arrives. Or ice skating. If you go to a hockey rink play can be involved as well. Just some ideas…

    Roger wrote on February 15th, 2011
  11. I don’t know whether to think of this article as a nice bit of wisdom or to lose all faith in humanity because what it covers is not common sense.

    Even in the winter, I work out outside.

    soahc wrote on February 15th, 2011
  12. Walking is my most favorite thing to do! There is a nice park near my home with ducks in the pond, lots of birds to listen to and watch… and lots of families out with their children!

    The “lifting heavy things” is going to be sort of a challenge for me because I have little or no disc material between L5 and S1. I am working on that a little bit at a time… and very carefully!

    Maryann wrote on February 15th, 2011
  13. Agree 100% that play is essential. As we move into the future and we get busier (a consequence of improved efficiency), taking a step back to play, relax, sleep, and otherwise recharge our batteries becomes increasingly vital. Even our breathing becomes stunted by stress. Combat it by taking 5 deep breaths in and out each hour. You’ll be amazed by the benefits of that simple exercise.

    Primal Palette wrote on February 15th, 2011
  14. I have a question:

    I USED to walk everywhere, around 4 miles a day. Then I got a bike and realised how much time I’d been wasting (living in Manchester, walking up and down a bus corridor isn’t all that fun in its own right). I cycle at least five miles a day and I do not walk anywhere anymore. Even if I’m getting a bus into town I’ll cycle the ten minutes walk to the bus stop (partly because I’m afraid of walking back to my house at night).

    I walked for about twenty minutes a few days ago and it felt very strange, clunky and odd, like I’d forgotten how to do it properly.

    Is this really bad? Or is cycling an OK substitute?

    Cat wrote on February 15th, 2011
  15. I don’t believe any of the Primal Blueprint laws are optional. They are essential. Being clean of poisons and well-fed and well-rested and healthier and lighter – I dare you to hold me back. I’m finally so much more like the Mom I want to be. The person I want to be. Being outside, being active, with out without my kids, is preferable to any gym. I love free exercise and free Vitamin D. 😀

    Melissa Fritcher wrote on February 15th, 2011
  16. I wish I could always work out outdoors. Unfortunately, I live in the Northeast and the winter has been particularly brutal to us this year.

    Any advice for us cold weather folk?

    Anya wrote on February 15th, 2011
  17. I love my walks, my wife loves our walks and most of all “the Dude” (a boxer) loves his walks. With the lengthening days it is easier to walk after work. It seems to keep us all sane if we do it daily. Maybe that is why I love summer.

    Richard Harrison wrote on February 15th, 2011
  18. Are these the same types of sugar found in rum and other sweet alcoholic beverages?

    Nicky Spur wrote on February 15th, 2011
  19. when i lived in pa, we walked 45 mins in the snow, sometimes hiked. its mostly abt clothing.

    Zoebird wrote on February 15th, 2011
  20. I’m always looking for new ways to enjoy the outdoor. It’s cold with snow and ice here up in Montreal, but lately, I found a way to safely jog in almost any type of winter weather. My wife and I bought trail running shoes, 1/2 a size larger so we could fit 2 pairs of socks inside. Also, added #8×1/2″ sheet metal screws under the shoes (15 per shoe) to get incredible traction. Look up “screwshoes” and you’ll see what I mean. Also, if you have a dog that likes to play outside and run, look into cani-cross gear. If there’s too much snow, just hit the trails with the snowshoes instead. Dark? The new hi-power LED headlamps work great. Cheers.

    Johnnydrz wrote on February 16th, 2011
  21. The emphasis on play, long walks and outdoor workouts are what attracted me to the Primal Blueprint in the first place.
    I’ve lost weight cutting carbs (the Drs Eades’ plan) but didn’t go into maintenance correctly. (I treated it as a fix to apply and forget about.) I had already started to fix my diet and started to think about the best shape I’ve been in before reading your blog.
    Of course, I was fit as a high school athlete, but in my adult years I always lost weight and felt much better when I worked in construction or factories. These were short term jobs. Summer during graduate school or short term until I found another ‘easy’ job.
    Slow, but steady work resulted in weight loss and all-around better health. The construction jobs were outdoors and made me feel better than indoor work, so I had already decided to try to make something similar the basis of reclaiming my health and fitness when I stumbled across the Daily Apple.
    I guess the quick answer to your question is: No. I don’t treat them as optional. I treat them as foundations.

    Jim wrote on February 16th, 2011
  22. If I don’t get my tree time, I get unreasonably grumpy. Even knowing this, somehow I still forget. Just last night I remembered again, realizing that my only outside activities the last few weeks have been feeding the chickens and driving to run errands! Umm, cabin fever?

    My new snowshoes suck – time to borrow my friend’s old ones again until I can get some better ones. And I’m still dreaming of cross-country skis to use on local snowmobile trails (not many machines weekdays). My niece is also pestering me to take her downhill skiing, always a great quad/leg workout!

    curiousalexa wrote on February 17th, 2011
  23. I am competitive strength athlete and sometimes my peers laugh at me when I mention the importance of walking. But it’s true, walking energizes me and works the kinks out from heavy lifting.

    Nathan wrote on February 20th, 2011
  24. I read about a study once that showed that strength training under UV light improved power output, compared to strength training with no UV ligth.

    Frederik wrote on February 21st, 2011
  25. Very timely post for me! I’d been getting a bit too much into the “lift heavy weights” bit and not getting outdoors — miserable Scottish winter putting me off. But I wasn’t feeling anywhere near as good as when I was doing lots of walking and cycling while not letting my heartrate drift too high. So today I got out on the bike for two hours on an empty stomach, and now I feel fantastic! Just out of curiosity I picked up the dumbbells at the end of the ride — and did a PR for the overhead press! Going to be making walking & cycling outdoors exercise priority number one now. Thanks Mark!

    David McCarthy wrote on February 24th, 2011
  26. Mark, you definitely rock! Your blog manages to give good info and this time, too, i was not disappointed. Well, I believe that not matter how busy one remains, one can always take up some type of physical activities. Walk you way to office, climb the stairs, shop for the groceries-in short, do anything that fits into your schedule.

    Albert wrote on February 25th, 2011

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