There’s a common perception that anglers and hunters don’t need to be in shape, that they can get along well enough without worrying about personal health. But if you’ve ever tried to carry a moose quarter out on your back, or portaged a canoe down a brutal, seemingly endless bush trail, you know this is a falsehood. Being in shape is possibly the simplest, most practical thing you can do to better your outdoor experience. Improving personal fitness is also something just about anyone can achieve, even if it’s in a small way.
My decision to become a healthier person happened a few years ago. I was in my mid-40s and not feeling that great. I’d gained 30 pounds in 20 years, and walking with a lot of hunting gear was starting to hurt. My hips were sore and knees dodgy. I decided to test my cardio and barely made it down the block. My clothes kept getting bigger and there was no end in sight. Then, one day, my wife invited me to go for a walk, and I said yes. That was the start.
Daily walks were it for about a year, then walking with some short runs. I’ll never forget the day I ran five kilometres straight through — it seemed like a miracle. Over the course of the next four years, I ran many hundreds of kilometres and dropped 20 pounds. My cardio was back and my XXL shirts started to look like tents. However, running also made my hip flexors sore, and grinding it out was no fun during the northwestern Ontario winter.
Then, my baby sister, Marlo Ellis, moved back to Thunder Bay from Mexico. She went down as a school teacher and returned as a fitness trainer. She encouraged me to work out at the gym with her, but I was hesitant. I was running outside, in the fresh air. The gym was for urbanites and 20-somethings.
The next step
Finally, she roped me in to taking part in a challenge with a few other media folks. It seemed like a safe thing to do, and it was just a three-month commitment. I quickly learned from my sister that although my cardio and overall health was good, my upper body strength was a long way from where it could be. I was still pretty soft, despite all the running. My initial attempts at skipping were disastrous and I could barely do 20 push-ups. To make a long story short, in three months of workouts, my weight dropped by another 12 pounds or so, and my body began to really change.
The belly, that had been stubbornly hanging on despite the running, finally started to shrink. The most noticeable thing for me was my core strength; I could once again carry heavy stuff like a packhorse. A full 60-pound bag of deer chow was grunted in nearly a kilometre with remarkably little problem, sometimes with a gun and packsack. There were no back tweaks or gasping for breath. That’s not to say it was easy, but my heart and lungs were able to manage rather well.
Fast forward two years and I’m still working out. In fact, if I’m in town and not fishing or hunting, my morning routine now includes an hour-long workout. If I’m away from the gym, I do a series of easy-to-do exercises.
I realize many of you are already active, and manage your weight and strength doing what you love to do. If that’s the case, you are not likely going to need an additional exercise regime. For the rest of us, especially the unlucky majority who are strapped to a desk eight hours a day (or more), some kind of exercise routine is needed.
Of course, walking and or running is a great thing for cardio and I’d suggest walking as a start- ing point for just about everyone. A long, brisk walk or hike will build stamina and get the blood moving in your legs. From there, you can decide whether weight lifting and other forms of exercise are for you. Consult your physician before beginning any major exercise regime.
Being a healthier person has more advantages than being able to fish longer and hunt without pain. Your sleep patterns will benefit, as a truly tired body has a way of quickly hitting the off switch. You will also be able to eat a lot of good, healthy food and not gain weight. A diet of wild game and fish is perfect fuel for a strong body. You may even find yourself notching the belt in a bit more than usual, or buying new clothes.
Most of all, being healthy and fit will allow you to keep enjoying the activities you love, on your terms. And there’s really nothing better than that.
I asked Marlo Ellis to pick four exercises that could be done anywhere. Here is what she offered up:
1. Push up: Builds upper body and core strength for carrying things in and out of the bush.
2. Squats with weights: Good for leg and core strength. Works the major muscles and improves leg strength and stamina, as well as your ability to carry a heavy load.
3. Plank: Improves core, lower back, and abdominal strength.
4. Quick feet or shadow boxing: Done in 30-second intervals, this will improve heart health and keep the ticker intact for long trudges through the bush, snow, water, etc.
Originally published in the Jan.-Feb. 2015 edition of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.