Dear Heather:

I am wondering which is better, to walk on the treadmill at the gym at my work, or to walk outside. Is one better than the other?

Well, my answer to this question has many levels. Firstly, for the best physical benefits, studies have not shown outdoor activity to offer any fitness benefits over treadmill walking. As long as you vary your intensity (add hills or vary the pace) a treadmill can offer you a good cardiovascular workout and improve overall health and fitness tremendously. Having said that, the terrain of a treadmill is static, that means that there is no change to your movement pattern, and this over time can lead to overuse injury, boredom, and could cause a lack of stimulation for the smaller muscles of the foot, knee and hip that help us with stability and lateral movements that we would find naturally when walking outdoors. I have had a few clients who have suffered repetitive strain injuries from overuse of treadmills. However, I have many more clients who have attained and maintained their fitness with the use of a treadmill.

Secondly, there are amazing non-physical benefits to be experienced when walking outdoors, the fresh air, the communion with nature, and the opportunity to be more “present-moment focused” are all (in my estimation) essential to holistic health, and often absent in a gym workout. For instance, when you walk on your treadmill, do you watch television or listen to music? This takes your mind away from the present moment, and tends to “disconnect” the mind from the body. Watching TV or listening to music can be great motivation when we are wanting to build a routine of fitness, keeping us on the treadmill longer. But, as we develop our fitness and wellness skills, we would prefer to move in the direction of being present with the body during exercise. Some studies have shown the mental focus can dramatically enhance your fitness results, including increased cardiovascular benefit, reduced risk of injury, improved mental concentration, and enhanced endurance. Ask any elite athlete their experience and they will tell you that being “one” with the body during fitness or sport is really the “zen” of movement.

Finally, I suggest that you consider your schedule, the climate, and the ease of access to good walking trails in your area. Perhaps during the winter the treadmill at work is a better choice considering the weather and lack of sunlight hours. And, during the milder months of late spring to late autumn you might find some nice walking trails in your area that you can frequent. My best advice to you is to try to find a way to vary your workouts, ensure that your plan allows for 3-4 walks a week, and do your best to maintain a “present-moment-focused” attention when you are working out to enjoy all the many benefits of exercise.
I hope that this lengthy answer to your question is helpful to you, and to all our readers. As always, I am wishing you all the best in all your fitness endeavors.

Dear Heather:

Are Pilates and Yoga basically the same? Which is better?

No, Pilates and Yoga are not the same thing. Yoga is a 5,000 year old spiritual science that encompasses not only physical movement, but also breath-work, ethical observances, meditation and devotional practices. Pilates is a decades-old physical practice that is highly effective in developing functional fitness, core strength, and integration of mind and body. On a purely physical level they are both effective means of building strength, improving muscle tone, balance and agility, and in fact you can find Yoga/Pilates fusion classes and DVD’s available that are excellent fitness systems. However, Yoga offers many more opportunities for personal growth and development than simple better fitness and physical wellbeing. And, if your interest is in improving the whole “Self”, I would recommend that Yoga has much more to offer in stress management, self-discovery and spiritual awakening. Having said that, I and many of my clients have benefited greatly from the Pilates work in overcoming injuries and developing muscle balance that enhances the practice of Yoga. For this reason I do recommend including both practices in your regular routine.

Dear Heather:

What is the best kind of Yoga for post-natal. I had my baby 4 months ago, had no abdominal muscle separation and my doctor has cleared me for exercise.

All of the physical styles of Yoga are safely practiced in your case (as you have presented it) when you work consciously and intelligently. Having said that, a Hatha Yoga class with special emphasis on rebuilding core strength would be a great choice. I would at this point not recommend high intensity practices that may interfere with your body’s own process. If you are practicing at home there are great DVD’s on the market designed specifically for post-natal students. Titles by Gaiam, Living Arts, Shiva Rea, and Gurmuhk are all great. There are also many studios who cater specifically to the post-natal student. A quick search online using a reputable yoga directory like or would be recommended. I hope you enjoy the process…

First Published in the Mind Body Messenger Newsletter 2007

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