The Zoo: Your New Favorite Workout Spot?

June 2, 2016

Lions, tigers, and bears, oh yes! Tired of walking on the same old streets and sidewalks? Head to the nearest zoo for a walk on the wild side while you enjoy the company of giraffes and zebras. Read on to discover the health benefits of a Zoo walkabout.

I took my three-year-old daughter to explore the 133-acre Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens last week. We had an amazing time, and I gained a lot of insight into why zoos make great places to exercise.

While we were taking in the animals, I also surveyed the human population. The diversity of the zoo visitors surprised me. There were many families, which I expected, but I also saw plenty of adults without a child escort.
It turns out that many of these folks were there to get fit in addition to enjoying the animal kingdom. I saw several women jogging, and as one of them paused to hydrate, she told me she bought a zoo membership because it costs one tenth of a yearly gym membership and gives her a safe place to walk or run every day. I also encountered a posse of new moms doing their weekly workout, speed walking while pushing their strollers through the zoo. I also spied several couples over sixty walking briskly and even a clump of teens walking around. My sixteen-year-old nephew confirmed that meeting friends at the zoo to walk around is now a trend, at least in LA.
I only stayed at the zoo for two and a half hours, but according to my Withings Activité Pop, I managed to walk about 3,800 steps during that time. I also got a bonus arm workout from constantly lifting my three-year-old up and down to get better views of the animals.

Although I love taking my children to the zoo, I would consider returning there to walk solo or with grown-up friends. The website Zoo and Aquarium Visitor provides some helpful tips on getting the most out of a zoo walk. It recommends swinging your arms and explains that holding your arms at a 90 degree angle can help you burn an additional 5-10% of calories. One way to ensure you maintain a 90 degree angle is to use a walking stick, which keeps your arm in the correct position, and to alternate hands every few minutes during the walk.

A 2013 study on the effects of outdoor walking published in the journal, Ecopsychology, concludes that walking outside may be particularly beneficial for well-being, and that walking in green spaces may put the brain into a meditative state. Another study concluded that jogging outdoors makes people 50% happier than working out in a gym does. Sara Warber, the author of the first study and Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, explains that ”walking is an inexpensive, low risk, and accessible form of exercise, and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful under-utilized stress buster.”

We may not be able to talk to the animals, but we can definitely take a walk with them. Based on this research and the latest trends, you may want to grab a kid, a walking stick, or some friends and head to the nearest zoo or botanical garden this summer for a walk that benefits your body and soul.

Jeanne Simpson

Jeanne is an actress, choreographer, and dance teacher in Los Angeles. Some of her favorite acting credits include roles on the PBS kids series Wishbone, AMC’s Mad Men and NBC’s Parks and Recreation. She has also choreographed a wide variety of projects for television and theater. When she’s not running around on a set or stage, Jeanne is at home in LA enjoying time with family.
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