Young couple stretching their legs outdoors before exercising. They are wearing sport clothing. Enjoying in beautiful day by the river. Daily outside workouts.

The first health and fitness club opened in the U.S. in the first half of the last century when Jack Lalanne opened in Oakland, California in 1936. Since then, these clubs have grown into an enormous industry:

  • Over 54 million Americans paid gym membership fees in 2014.
  • For the second year in a row actual visits to the gyms exceeded 5 billion!
  • The average member visited their club over 100 times, an all-time high.
  • Memberships grew 18.6% between 2008 and 2014, and the trend continued in 2015.
  • In the U.S. there are 34 thousand fitness centers – an increase of 6.4% over 2013.
  • 2014 revenue of $24.2 billion was a sharp 7.4% increase over $22.4 billion in 2013.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these fitness and recreational sports centers employed 533,200 people in 2014. Experts expect that number to grow 8% by 2024.

Exercise hasn’t always been about going to a building somewhere outside your home, though. There was a time when exercise was simply part of daily living, and most of it was outdoors. Why? Because food wasn’t a matter of jumping in the car to drive to the nearest supermarket, or even easier, just ordering online for delivery to your doorstep. Putting a daily meal on the table involved caring for animals and hard physical labor outdoors in large home gardens. Digging in the dirt or pushing hand plows, and hauling bags and buckets, kept shoulder and back muscles strong. The up-and-down movement of planting, weeding, and harvesting through long rows in all kinds of weather worked muscles all over the body and taxed endurance levels.

There were other benefits to all this vigorous exercise outdoors:

  • A 2009 article in Scientific American reports soaring levels of vitamin D deficiency in the U.S. Between 1988 and 1994, 45 percent of 18,883 people (examined as part of the federal government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) had 30 nanograms per milliliter or more of vitamin D…a decade later, just 23 percent of 13,369 of those surveyed had at least that amount. Working, or working out, outdoors immediately boosts vitamin D levels.
  • Studies show that people engaged in outdoor exercise tend to flex their ankles more.
  • Outdoor exercise is usually more strenuous.
  • Outdoor exercise requires important variations in movement patterns due to the constantly changing environment. The need for adaptation provides a tougher workout, requires the use of more muscles and reduces overuse of particular muscles through repetitive motions.
  • 2012 study of older adults found that those who exercised outdoors exercised longer and more frequently than those who exercised indoors.
  • One of the most important benefits of outdoor activity, though, is to overall well-being. In 2011, the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry reported in Environmental Science and Technology that “exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy, and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression. Participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity.”

These are all significant benefits to exercising outdoors, but consider one more interesting possibility: suppose as your exercise you were able to replicate the outdoor activity of earlier Americans, that is, by devoting significant outdoor time to the work of producing the food for your table. We’re not all fortunate enough to have an acre of land surrounding us that we can devote to agriculture, but suppose that instead of getting into your car to drive to a supermarket or sitting down to your computer to order online, you devote a few hours a week to volunteering at a local farm or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in exchange for produce.

As you consider this possibility, imagine these additional benefits for your health and sense of well-being:

  • You can enjoy a variety of unrefined, fresh plant foods, which experts say should make up 80-90% of a healthy diet.
  • You can contribute positively to a sustainable food supply system and to a healthier environment.
  • Your exercise is purpose-driven as you experience yourself as part of something greater than yourself.

Many of us in North America live in climates that don’t allow year-round outdoor activity and certainly not year-round farm workouts…but we’re not talking about eliminating fitness clubs, just about applying lessons from our past to our present as we work out healthy, meaningful lifestyles.

For more ideas about building vibrant, good health for yourself and your family, please contact us.

David Michael Gilbertson is the founder and president of 3 Elements Lifestyle, LLC., a Fitness and Weight Loss company that specializes in YOU!. With more than 15 years of experience owning, operating and managing clubs of all sizes, David lectures, delivers seminars and gives workshops on the practical skills required to successfully help you with your health and fitness goals. David also helps you build the teamwork, management, and training necessary to open your own fitness center. For more information on Licensing and Consulting Services Visit his Web site at: or email at or call 805.499.3030

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