6 Outdoor Workout Hazards

Working out in the great outdoors can be an amazing experience–but it’s not without its hazards. Let’s take a look of six of the biggest risks you take when you take your fitness outside.

  1. You might get lost

If you’re used to indoor exercises like circuit training, treadmill, or elliptical machine, you’ll find that outdoor exercises have the advantage of taking you to new places. Rather than riding a stationary bike while catching up on your favorite podcast, cycling in the real world can offer beautiful scenery, changing terrain, and new adventures. But before you take your workout out of the gym and into the great unknown, make sure you know where you’re going. 

I don’t mean that in a life purpose or spiritual way either. Stop by REI or your closest retailer to pick up trails and guides that contain maps to where you’re going. There are a number of apps available to help you discover new places to go, like the National Geographic Park Maps. If you’re looking to hike, apps and other guides can point you to nearby trails. If you feel like a swim, you can find the nearest location to dive in–and also get information on length, difficulty, and potential risks.

2. You could get sunburn

While it’s common knowledge that you should wear sunscreen year round, few of us actually do it. You’ll need sunscreen in an equivalent amount of what might fill a shot glass. Use it from head to toe to avoid burning. If you’ll be sweating, consider a waterproof sunscreen that won’t sweat off your SPF. Adding a cap and sunglasses can also provide additional protection from the harsh rays of the sun.

3. You risk heat stroke and dehydration

If it’s hot, you’ll sweat more, but there are times when it’s just too hot to take your fitness routine outside. Before you head out on a run, ride, or hike, check the weather. Make sure to stay hydrated by bringing your own water bottle on your adventures–paying particular attention to higher temperature days. 

Beware the dangers of high humidity. Wellness experts remind us that humidity can keep sweat from dissipating, preventing the body from cooling. The Heat Stress Index utilized by forecasters and wellness experts shows that 50% humidity on a 90-degree day creates a real-feel of 96-degrees. To make healthy choices to avoid heat stroke, sunburn, and fatigue, pay attention to this scale and take exercise indoors when the weather spikes above 90 degrees. The other option is to do workouts first thing in the morning or later in the evening to take advantage of lower temperatures.

4. You could be exposed to more pollution

If fresh air with our exercise seems ideal, it may surprise you to know it may not be. Every day pollution from vehicle exhaust, development, industrial gases, and even ozone can trigger asthma and pose a danger to your lungs. Air quality tends to be better at the start and end of each day when pollution is minimal. If the Air Quality Index reads high, it might be better to skip the fresh air and trade it for an indoor workout. Your lungs may thank you.

5. You could run into wild animals and poisonous plants

If you thought some of your fellow gym goers were feral, wait until you go for a hike or decide to climb a mountain. It might be a good idea to check out a guide and get some expert advice to figure out which wild animals could be living in the area where you want to have your adventure. Stay on the path, and learn the safety protocols if you run into bears or other dangers. Consider downloading an app to identify tracks and other signs of area wildlife. 

And maybe pack some snacks so you aren’t tempted to try those tasty looking berries that could end up being poisonous. Be aware of how to identify poison oak and poison ivy, and if you’re not sure something is safe to eat, it’s best to avoid it. Find an app that identifies plants to learn as you go–and avoid any mishaps.

6. It could have unique challenges

When you choose to exercise outside, you’re taking on the weather, sun, wind, temperature changes, and whatever else nature might throw at you. It may take a few outings to acclimate to your new outdoor fitness routine, and you may have to give yourself the opportunity to adapt. 

Preparation is key. For taking on a climb over the course of a day, experts recommend preparing by planning navigation, bringing sunscreen (and reapplying regularly), carrying first aid supplies in the event of an accident or injury, packing matches or a lighter, carrying a pocket-knife or other emergency tool set, packing extra snacks and water, and tucking in a reflective emergency blanket in the event you find yourself needing shelter outdoors. 

While every fitness routine won’t need such a thorough plan, most will require sunscreen and water at a minimum. Working out outside can be a wonderful adventure as long as you go into it prepared and ready to adapt to the challenges.