Geeta Padmanabhan highlights the several health benefits to be derived from pursuing some form of exercise outside the confines of your home

Colorado was voted the “slimmest state” for the fourth time in 2013. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index-2012 marks it as the only state in the U.S. where less than 20 per cent of the people are obese. After studying the behaviours of trim Coloradans and he habits of patients in their weight-loss clinic, Drs. James Hill and Holly Wyatt of Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, University of Colorado, wrote a book, The State of Slim: Fix Your Metabolism and Drop 20 Pounds in 8 Weeks on the Colorado Diet. As a regular visitor to this gorgeous state, I know the Colorado diet means Coloradans' love of the outdoors.

Physical activity increases energy expenditure (you can eat a reasonable amount of food without gaining weight), gets an inflexible metabolism to stretch and help maintain weight, say the doctors. They talk of “mile-high metabolism” (most of Colorado is a mile above sea-level) where losing weight and physical activity march together to maintain weight, developing the “Colorado mind-set” — resolving to see a slim you; knowing the purpose of your decision; holding on to your motivation; creating a physical environment supportive of your new life-style (reject problem food, stack healthy snacks), finding a place to walk and spending time with people who value what you're doing.

On the move

Coloradans are mobile, and how! I have seen them walk warmly-clothed dogs over a foot of snow, work out in glass-fronted gyms on harsh winter days. All parents have bicycles that pull prams. Once when 2 feet of snow fell on a day, a woman in a parka brought out her sled and slid down the street! In warm weather, they are seen trekking in the craggiest Rocky Mountain peaks with a kid on their shoulders. They ski, swim, sail, run, garden. In Boulder, Colorado, bicycles outnumber cars, and bikes are left in street corners for use. In Denver, the major shopping area, 16th Street is vehicle-free. You take free rides on an up-and-down tram, and get off at points to (window) shop on the broad pavements. “Why are we slim? Inspiring geography, fresh air and an outdoor-friendly vibe,” says Denverite Suman Iyer.

“Outdoor exercise helps make your body more flexible to carry out day-to-day activities such as walking, running, negotiating stairs and squatting,” says physiotherapist T.P.Vallaban, MPT(Ortho). I caught up with his disciples who follow him to Besant Nagar at an unearthly hour for a set of structured activities. His freestyle body-weight exercises are “accessible anywhere any time for anyone — without weights and equipment,” but all the routines need 10 minutes of warm up, 20 minutes of base exercises, 20 minutes of functional work-outs, and 10mins of cool-down, he cautioned. “Try this simple walking variation I recommend for busy women,” he invited me. “Over a 25-yard distance, repeat a heel-raised walk, a toe-raised walk, a side-kick walk, a quarter-squad walk, a kick-back and a high-knee walk. This exercises the leg muscles and makes stair-negotiating efficient. Make it your daily routine, it takes just 20 minutes.”

I can walk the treadmill, can't I? Ha, being outdoors and staying with the team helps you socially and mentally, and balances the health and performance-related aspects of exercise, he says. “Together they increase longevity.”

His followers can't agree more. Says Shakunthala, an athlete and blood cancer survivor, “Treatment left me with atrophied muscles. Gyms weren't of much help since the instructors aren't equipped to handle special needs.” Physiotherapy with Vallaban got her on her feet, but his outdoor sessions “gave me confidence, stamina and a cure for lesser injuries. We encourage one another, and learn and share through healthy competition.” Viji SriKumar's distance-running has stretched from 600 metres to 10 km in three months. “My wheezing has reduced, and my cycling pace has improved with the right kind of running.” For veteran cyclist Kandappa who's looking to strengthen core muscles, “Working out with a team outdoors has advantages. Peer pressure ensures better performance!” Parthasarathy, “a random runner” slacked out, put on weight and took up running/cycling after 17 years. “With Vallaban I stay injury-free, my speed has gone up.” But staying fit is a journey, he says.

Marathon effort

Subash went from half to full marathons and is improving his time as a long-distance cyclist. Chandrasekar Elangovan, outdoor activist, describes his long runs on the roads/trails as “heaven on earth”. He dedicates all his running to his mom, immobilised by diabetic neuropathy. Three months' outdoor work made a huge difference to Sathyanarayanan who crashed the scales at 113 kg “on outside food and no physical activity” when wife was away having a baby. “I should be a healthy dad,” he thought and enrolled for a 10-km marathon. Less 5 kg/4 tummy inches and more toned muscles, he now wakes up at 3.15 a.m. without cribbing and cycles 80 km at a stretch. He has switched registration to 21 km.

From a guy who loves night-life, burgers and pizza, to one who cycles with buddies, controls eating, completes office-work efficiently and hits the bed early — “I'm living the ideal life that started outdoors training with Vallaban,” he said.

Must do

- Move at least 70 minutes a day – 40 in the morning, 30 in the evening. Not obese? Still move.

- Forget counting calories and monitor physical activity/weight instead. Adjust food intake when needed.

- Have a daily physical activity goal, weigh yourself regularly.

- Eat smarter — learn about energy density and proper portion sizes.