DNR: Michigan's parks and trails offer great places to realize your New Year's fitness goals

closeup photo of person's legs and feet walking in showshoes in forest

Jan. 7, 2016

A week into this new year, many people are working on – or perhaps already struggling to keep – resolutions to get in shape.

While those resolutions often go by the wayside before the first flip of the calendar page, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources suggests a different approach to exercise that might help people stick with a healthier lifestyle beyond a few weeks – combining exercise with family and friends.

“Fitness resolutions come and go each year, but spending quality time with friends and family is no fad. Spending that family time out for a walk can make for a powerful fitness pledge,” said Maia Turek, DNR statewide recreation programmer.

Several people shown snowshoeing under sunny skies in a winter woodland.The DNR is encouraging Michigan residents to make 2016 #MiShoeYear and to put on their shoes, skis or skates to get outside and move.

“Whether you are taking the first step toward fitness ever or the first step in a long time, the beginning of the year is when a lot of people kick off healthier lifestyle routines,” Turek said. “When you declare #MiShoeYear, it’s more than just a workout, it’s an adventure. Explore new trails. See new vistas, get to know Michigan while you get fit.”

Calling the idea “a movement for movement,” Turek said many of Michigan’s state parks offer programs featuring outdoor winter activities like hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing – some even by candlelight or lantern light. Those looking for an outdoor adventure can find nearby events at www.michigan.gov/dnrcalendar.

With more than 100 state parks and thousands of miles of trails in Michigan, there’s also plenty of opportunity for self-guided workouts that explore the great outdoors. Find a new favorite place to run, hike, ski or snowshoe using the DNR’s Recreation Search website.

Don’t forget about local and regional parks.

“Michigan has some of the country's best parks, with endless ways to stay active and spend time with family and community,” said Ann Conklin, chief operating officer for mParks (Michigan Recreation and Park Association). “They’re a convenient and affordable place to get moving and build healthy, active habits.”

The unique advantages of outdoor exercise can make people more likely to stick with a fresh air fitness routine, rather than with a gym.

“There are plenty of reasons to take your workout outside,” Turek said. “Enjoying nature’s scenery will distract from your effort or fatigue, so you’ll work out longer. You’ll burn more calories because the varied terrain of a park or trail helps keep you out of a fitness rut and you’ll be happier – breathing fresh air can create a feeling of euphoria.”

Outdoor fitness also can save money and help manage time.

The DNR’s Recreation Passport – at only $11 per year for access to Michigan workout destinationsTwo skiers on a snow-covered road are shown. The side of the road has lanterns on it. including thousands of miles of trails, 102 state parks and 136 state forest campgrounds – could be considered the most affordable gym membership available, with the most locations statewide.

The flexibility of not being confined to class schedules allows outdoor workouts to fit more easily into daily routines. Not to mention, getting outside for some active adventures can make the long Michigan winter a lot more enjoyable.

“Winter is way more fun when you get outdoors and embrace it, instead of wishing it was over. Hiding indoors has never successfully made winter go away, so make the most of it,” said Jacquelyn Baker, communications and marketing manager for mParks. “Michigan is a four-season state, and that’s a great thing. There’s something exhilarating about getting active in winter. Bundle up and breathe some fresh air. Enjoy the picturesque snow and ice.”

Eva Solomon, founder and CEO of Epic Races, agreed.

“Michigan winters are for embracing, not escaping,” Solomon said.

Solomon’s organization is offering a virtual 5K event for those who want some great gear and accountability backing their New Year's fitness resolution. Register to participate and a portion of the proceeds will support fitness programs and reforestation efforts in Michigan state parks.

“After the overwhelming response to our Heart MI Run Virtual 5K, we created the Heart MI Snow Virtual 5K. So many people have a 5K run or walk on their bucket lists, but need some extra motivation to begin. Others are worried about feeling out of place at a group event with experienced runners,” Solomon said. “The virtual 5K gave people the opportunity to run, walk, hike, ski or snowshoe their 5K where they want and when they want, and we will reward them by sending them a shirt and medal in the mail.”

Turek said those who exercise outdoors can add to the fun by sharing their adventures on social media using #MiShoeYear.

“State parks, township parks, your neighborhood – wherever it is, just get outside and snap a selfie," Turek said.

Interested in seeing how fun and easy winter outdoor fitness can be? Watch a video filmed at Muskegon State Park to get tips from Cari Draft with EcoTrek Fitness. The video is part of the “Active Living Through Parks” series, showcasing different forms of outdoor fitness and their benefits through a partnership between the DNR, mParks and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“Whether you want to shed a few pounds, strengthen your heart or reduce stress, outdoor exercise can get you there,” Turek said. “Grab your friends and family and head outside to take the first step toward being fresh air fit.”