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How Getting Out of the Gym Helped One Woman Lose 40 Pounds

Taking workouts from the treadmill to the trail may get that scale ticking in the right direction.
Image: Woman relaxing in nature
Instead of hitting a time quota on the treadmill, spending time outdoors can make exercise enjoyable.Max Bolotnikov / Getty Images file

For years, Raechel Bonomo struggled to lose weight at the gym. The weight finally came off, she says, when she got off the treadmill and headed outdoors.

The 24-year-old started working for the Nature Conservancy of Canada after graduating from Durham College in 2015. The stress of her new job caused her to pack on pounds, she says. She joined a local gym, but came to dread the hordes of gym-goers and exercise machines.

I’d go for a hike and look at my Fitbit like, ‘Wow, I just burned like 400 calories on that 45 minute hike.

“I felt like I was being distracted because there were so many machines, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go to this machine next, and this one, and this one,’” Bonomo tells Better. “You have to wait for machines when there’s people using them and it just kind of interrupts your workout.”

In March, the Canadian started taking her dog on long hikes in a forest near her home. The excursions rekindled the love she had for nature as a child, she says, and also burned a lot of calories.

“I’d go for a hike and look at my Fitbit like, ‘Wow, I just burned like 400 calories on that 45 minute hike,’” she recalls.

She also enjoyed it.

“Instead of focusing on time and how hard I was working, I was working hard and enjoying myself while doing it, because I was in an environment that I felt comfortable in and somewhere I actually wanted to be,” she explained.

Then it occurred to her: “Why am I paying for a gym membership, dreading going to the gym when I can literally just step outside and go for a walk in the neighborhood?”

Hitting the trails

Bonomo began going for hikes on her lunch breaks. She says the parks near her job in Toronto had plenty of trails to explore. During the hikes, she would run for short, 30-second intervals. As she got used to it, she started running for longer durations.

“When you run outside — run in the forest — you’re in different terrain,” Bonomo explains. “Having those different elevations, getting your heart rate up, getting it down when you’re going down the hill, having those different terrains and having those difficulty levels keep switching was actually having me burn more calories than me going to the gym.”

“I remember running and feeling great and being like, ‘Wow, this is something I can do,’ and coming back to work and feeling so attentive. A new clarity came over me,” she says.

She says running outside gave her a new sense of accomplishment.

“I find it’s more of a motivation to be on an actual hill and run to the top of it rather than picturing a hill, putting your treadmill up to and incline of 8 or whatever and running for however long and bringing it back down,” she says.

Getting strong without the gym

Bonomo says she goes trail running three to four days a week, and does yoga and strength training on days when she doesn’t run.

“I do all my workouts at home,” she says.

She does yoga in her backyard on weekends, she says, and follows strength training programs she finds online.

While Bonomo eats healthy for the most part and even meal preps, she doesn’t follow a strict diet.

“Fridays are my cheat days,” she says.

Focus on lifestyle changes

The Canadian says she lost about 40 pounds since March. She attributes her success to making healthier lifestyle changes, rather than focusing on losing weight.

“It was only when I started to lose weight for the right reasons that it actually started to work,” says Bonomo.

She says the feeling of accomplishment from losing the weight is about “so much more than your dress size.”

“It’s honestly this confidence in you that you sought out to do something and you were able to accomplish it,” Bonomo says. “So it feels magnificent.”

The benefits of taking your workout outside

  • Trade the treadmill for the trail: Taking your workout outdoors has some major benefits. Running or hiking on terrain as opposed to a treadmill, for example, offers new challenges, works different muscle groups and gives you a sense that you are going somewhere.
  • Find creative ways to get moving: You can get a great workout in your own backyard. YouTube and online blogs offer plenty of programs for yoga and strength training.
  • Start with just getting outdoors: A simple lifestyle change like getting outside more often can change your habits and help you get fit. Start with a walk around your neighborhood or a hike at a nearby nature preserve, and see where it takes you.

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