Sponsored By Miami-Dade Parks & Recreation

While working up a sweat inside a gym helps get you in shape, getting out and about in a park can also firm you up while bringing you some bonus health benefits.

As a former NFL linebacker, you’d think Joe DiBernardo was in pretty good shape — and that he’d opt to stay that way by hitting the weights at the gym like other football players. But after injuries forced him to retire from the NFL, Joe found that conventional workouts didn’t work for him anymore. Eventually he developed a more back-to-basics approach to fitness — and got the moniker “Primal Joe.”

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A big part of that primal approach involved outdoor workouts, especially after the birth of his son. “Training outdoors really evolved when I became a father,” explains Joe. “I didn’t want to leave my son and go to the gym to exercise. So I started going to the park with him and exercising while he was playing at the playground. I was able to spend time with my son while exercising.” This interaction exemplifies what parks is all about: Connecting people and parks for life.

Eventually, those outdoor workouts weren’t just Joe’s personal routine, but also a key part of the fitness routine he sets up for the clients he trains, often taking them to Tropical Park. And he’s not the only one. Dorian Reyes has been running and strength training in Tropical Park since it opened in 1979. Until the recent creation of the park’s fitness zone, he would strength train with whatever physical structures were available, and now takes this training to the next level with the fitness zones, which he loves because of the new variety they add to his routine.

The natural surroundings and solitude he finds there create an almost sacred time and space. “I feel like I’m connected with God,” he says. That peaceful alone time is something also valued by Jamar Brown, who rides his bike to several neighborhood parks daily — including Gwen Cherry, Olinda and MLK Memorial Park — to work out at the fitness zones. “It’s my ‘me’ time,” he says. “It relieves stress, frees your mind, relaxes the body.”

Good for Them — and Good for You, Too

While Joe, Dorian and Jamar work out at Miami-Dade Parks due to personal preferences, research suggests they’re also getting some key benefits that gym warriors may be missing out on.

One basic benefit is simple sunlight, as it may help us fight fatigue better and get more out of our workouts  in two ways. One is by providing vitamin D that enhances your body‘s, cells’ ability to produce energy and promote muscle recovery. The other is by keeping your circadian rhythms in check so that you’re less likely to have trouble falling asleep at night. Even more reason to prioritize sun time is that a scientific consensus paper published by Journal of the American College of Nutrition says the benefits from vita- min D intake via sun exposure far outweigh those obtained through supplements.

On top of that, outdoor exercise in parks is the tonic that works wonders on the mental aspect of health: the natural green surroundings that parks give in concentrated doses. Nature’s health benefits are well-documented by scientific studies, which show that it calms the mind and body, restores concentration, improves short-term memory and creativity, and improves one’s overall sense of well-being. 

Going to Ground

If you’re daring enough to attract a few looks from bystanders, you can use your workout to multitask for your health by adding an incredibly simple — and potentially powerful — practice to your exercise routine. Grounding, also known as earthing, involves putting your body in direct contact with the earth (with bare feet or using a conductive material) in order to leverage its free supply of electrons, which have restorative antioxidant effects on the body.

Sounds far-fetched? An article published by the Journal of Inflammation Research summarizes the findings of more than a dozen studies showing that subjects grounded for prolonged periods of time experienced reduced body inflammation, with lower cortisol levels, reduced chronic pain, improved sleep, accelerated wound healing, increased energy, and much more.

How is this possible? It helps to start by understanding free radicals, a hot topic in the aging discussion. These known causes of cell damage are simply molecules that have an unpaired outer electron. They are natural by-products of our own body chemistry but can also come from substances like pesticides or air pollutants. Because electrons always seek a “partner,” these free radicals will “steal” electrons from other molecules to become stabilized. It sets off a chain reaction of molecules stealing from other molecules, causing damage to our cells.

Antioxidants such as vitamins and minerals found in certain foods are known to counteract this chain reaction by supplying electrons without compromising their own cells. Amazingly, the earth’s surface can have the same effect because its excess electrons (causing its negative charge) transfer to our body upon conductive contact and can also neutralize our free radicals and the damage they cause.

According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, an osteopath and author of Effortless Healing, “Studies suggest that benefits such as pain relief and stress reduction may occur in just 30-80 minutes of barefoot time a day.” However, even momentary contact with the earth is enough to reduce your muscle tension. Our parks or beaches are the perfect places to incorporate grounding into your exercise, whether during a walk or jog, or stretching, and bodyweight exercises.

Not least of all, there is a forgotten gift of the outdoors, that like grounding, can give an immediate boost to your workout: fresh air. By cleansing your lungs, fresh air increases oxygen flow throughout your body, thereby calming you, boosting your immunity, sharpening your brain, and energizing you for your workout.

Fitting Your Fitness Goals and Social Style

While raw nature gives fantastic tools for health to incorporate into your workout, Miami-Dade Parks perfects your workout setting by creating the spaces and providing the amenities for the workout ideal for you — no matter your age, fitness level or preferences.

One of the perks about exercising at our parks is the open space set apart from civilization and its stresses away from traffic, loud noise, and even the eyes of neighbors. Our fit- ness zones keep the principle of health equity alive and well in our county parks—and they are even more valuable for those who want quality toning without the cost and stresses of a gym.

Twenty-five fitness zones have been installed throughout Miami-Dade County. These clusters of gym equipment fill the void in some neighborhoods where gyms are hard to find and give residents of all backgrounds a safe place to exercise.  Find a fitness zone today!

Another advantage is that parks can fit your social style workout. Those who love a crowd can find one, since so many folks here in Miami work out at our parks. Those who prefer solo workouts can also go that route. Busy parents of young children will find many fitness zones conveniently placed next to playgrounds, so that they can tone up while their children burn energy and have fun.

Also, playing sports with loved ones is a great way to spend quality time together while getting and staying fit. In fact, larger families or groups may even want to take advantage of our many parks with multiple courts and fields, for times when half the group is up for a game of tennis, and half for basketball. In a world where people’s favorite recreation seems to be side-by-side screen time, outdoor sports and games are all the more precious, and they pay off in laughs and thrills as they do in burned calories.

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Exercise Your Options

While not set up exactly like your local gym, in their own way Miami-Dade Parks offer just as much—if not more—variety when it comes to workout choices. If less competitive and more scenic is your style, you can go running, hiking or biking with family, friends or solo along any of the many beautiful paths at our parks. Whether in the wilder wooded, secluded trails at places such as A.D. “Doug” Barnes or Arch Creek Park (where you can spot birds and other wildlife), or alongside the open water, such as at Matheson Hammock Park, your options are plentiful.

For a full-body workout with high impact on fitness and low impact on joints, take advantage of Miami’s warm weather to dive in the water at our beaches or pools. Swimming will work double-time and beyond for your health by packing both strength and cardio conditioning, while acting as a powerful stress reliever. For even more added benefits, consider swimming in the ocean at Miami Dade Parks’ beaches. The magnesium-rich ocean water will relax your muscles and help you to sleep, as well as boost your immunity and blood circulation.

And for a workout that not only doubles as aerobic and strength exercise, but also infuses a dose of adventure and wonder into your routine, try kayaking or canoeing at parks like Greynolds Park, Bill Sadowski Park or Crandon Park. Bring your own canoe or kayak, or rent one on site, and get happy soaking in the sun and awesome view.

When you embrace an active way of life at Miami-Dade Parks, you are not just toning muscle and burning calories, and your time is for far more than just exercise. It is time   to retreat and unplug, time to connect and laugh, time for adventure, time to decompress, time to heal. You embrace what being fit and healthy is all about.

Tips and Tricks

Schedule daytime workouts on weekends or free days for sunlight benefits.

During the hottest times of year, keep cool and safe by adjusting workout time, seeking out our shaded trails, and wearing a hat and light- colored clothing.

Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water before your visit and carrying a full bottle with you.

Pack a snack or meal in a cooler for post- workout hunger on busy days.

Use bodyweight and park benches for exercise to keep an extra-close eye on your kids at the playground.

Make your child’s sports time at the park your workout time.

Fitness Zone Tips for Beginners

Warm up beforehand with an elliptical machine or other form of light cardio.

Circuit train for a faster, fat-loss-oriented workout by moving immediately from one muscle group to another and repeating the circuit once completed.

For a focus on strength and muscle building, exercise one muscle group at a time with pauses in between.

Remember to keep your spine straight and neutral and shoulders pressed down.

Exhale slowly during exertion and inhale on the return.

Wait 48 hours before training the same muscle group again.

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Above content provided by Parks-Foundation of Miami-Dade and Miami-Dade Parks & Recreation

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