“Wild Fitness” Expert Explains Why It’s Better to “Play” Outside than Exercise in a Gym

September 19, 2016 at 3:07 am

“Re-wilding” retreat teaches people to approach fitness like the wild animals we once were, rather than like hamsters on a treadmill.

Nearly 70 percent of people paying for gym memberships never go to the gym. 80 percent who join as a New Year’s Resolution quit within five months.


Wildfitness” Founder Tara Wood says this is because our bodies and minds were not designed for gyms, and no matter how much we try to beat them into submission, they refuse to cooperate.

Wood runs a re-wilding retreat that teaches people to approach exercise like the wild animals we once were, rather than like hamsters on a treadmill.

It turns out playing in the wild like our hunter-gatherer ancestors not only keeps us in good mental health, but in good physical shape too.

“In their natural habitat, all of a wild animal’s senses are alive to anything that moves or smells around it,” Wood says in a Ted Talk. “This heightened alertness to their environment and purpose is something that’s very dulled in captive animals.”

Civilized humans suffer physically, mentally and emotionally because they are cut off from their natural food source, habitat, and ability to express their natural behavior, she says.

Wood’s typical client spends most of their days indoors “bathed in the cool glow of a screen,” with very limited movement and highly processed food. They have little motivation to get out of bed each morning, let alone exercise.

“Drop them into wilderness, get them to eat fresh, real food, get them to be physically active outdoors and tell them the rest of the time all they need to do is completely chill out – and within days an incredible awakening and blossoming occurs,” Wood says.


During the course of her one-week “wilderness therapy” program, Wood has seen chronic skin and digestive disorders clear up, diabetics stop needing insulin, and people in their 60’s, who haven’t run for 20 years, start running again. She’s seen depression — that the most potent pharmaceuticals and insightful psychologists couldn’t touch — lifted.

“There are no secrets here,” Wood said. “There’s nothing to patent. It’s simply a matter of putting the animal back in its natural environment.”

Nature knows best


Wood is a biologist, but she thinks scientists’ approach to human health is often too complicated.

She cites cushioned running shoes as a primary example:

Science tells us we need this cushioning to absorb the forces associated with running … But we’ve had millions of years of bipedal evolution. Why should we suddenly need shoes now?

We’ve learned cushioned shoes have been a terrible mistake, millions of injuries and millions of shoes later.”

She also questions why we need so many scientific studies to wake us up to the simple truth that exposing our skin to sunlight enhances our mood, or that the sound of wind in the leaves is deeply calming to our minds.

Tips for city dwellers who want to drink from the “elixir of wildness:”

1. Food. Keep it simple, fresh, real and local.

2. Movement. Imitate movements we would have done in our evolutionary origins, like climbing, balancing, jumping, playing, fighting, dancing, barefoot running and swimming.

3. Nature.  “Get outside whenever you can – eat outside, go from A to B outside, train outside, meet friends outside, spend your weekends outside, when you find a restaurant find a table where there’s nothing between your head and the stars.”

Mental motivators for movement:


1. Joy

Humans are hard-wired for enjoyment. Choose physical activities that are enjoyable and liberating.

“No wild animal would freely do something that causes it to suffer … Suffering kills our motivation and curbs our performance.”

2. Purpose

The biggest killer of motivation is doing something out of fear  – “like telling someone they have to lose weight or lower their blood pressure.”

There are far more interesting reasons to move, like martial arts, dancing, cross-country running and team sports.

3. Survival

alex-honnold-climbingEnvironmental challenges make us stronger and more adaptable. Therefore, exposing ourselves to sub-optimal conditions (running in the snow, for example) might do us some good, Wood says.

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