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7 ways to get fit, Colorado style

Our state offers some unique exercise opportunities you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

July 16, 2019

By Mark Cox

There’s fit. And then there’s Colorado fit.

The Centennial State has the lowest levels of obesity in the country, according to the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health. Colorado also is home to seven of the country’s 20 healthiest communities, according to research by U.S. News & World Report, including No. 1 (congratulations, Douglas County!). Each year, our state sits near the top of multiple state health and wellness lists – most active, longest life expectancy and lowest hypertension and diabetes rates. Even the mile-high air that people breathe makes them fitter because the state’s high elevation leads to an increased red-blood-cell count, which means increased aerobic fitness.

“It goes without saying that Colorado’s great climate and beautiful landscapes are conducive to exercise and a healthy lifestyle,” says Joe Quatrochi, Ph.D., Human Performance and Sport professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “But our infrastructure also plays a really important role because it makes all those great features so accessible.”

One thing’s for sure, Quatrochi says: If you’re looking for a good workout, you’ll never run out of options in Colorado. Here are seven quintessentially Colorado ways to stay fit this summer.

Ditch the car

No wonder people in Colorado – and Denverites in particular – are so cycle-crazy. The city’s vast, unbeatable network of bike paths and parks means you can spend hours out on two wheels without going anywhere near busy traffic. Take Quatrochi’s daily commute, for example. “I rode 11 miles into work today and was on a road for less than half a mile,” he says. “And you can do that across the whole city because our paths and trails are so widespread and convenient.” Best of all, you don’t even need your own bike to enjoy Denver’s 85 miles of paved trails – the Mile High City’s pioneering bike sharing system, Denver B-cycle, offers their shiny red bikes at more than 85 stations around town.

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RELATED: The case for bicycling

Hit the High Country

One reason Coloradans are so fit is because they spend so much time hoofing around the mountains. “People tend to distinguish between recreational walking activity and ‘serious’ exercise,” Quatrochi explains, “but that’s a false premise. You’ll get the same health benefits from a leisurely hike as you would from an indoor gym workout.” A good mountain walk, he says, will regulate blood pressure, improve bone health and bring numerous other benefits. “Ultimately, exercise is exercise – regardless of whether you’re wearing Lycra sweat pants or walking sandals.”

RELATED: 17 of Colorado’s best geological hikes

Rock out

Most people know Red Rocks as a world-famous concert venue, but not everyone knows it also doubles as a massive outdoor gym. Throughout summer, the giant sandstone formations serve as a backdrop for all kinds of workouts (including Yoga on the Rocks classes). Every week, scores of individuals and amateur fitness groups run, jump and throw themselves across the 69 rows of wooden benches that rise 135 feet from the stage. It’s said that you’ve not known real sports agony until you run all the way up the venue’s steps. Your quads will be screaming for mercy …

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Earn your beer

Ever had a day where you couldn’t decide whether to be virtuous and work out or just give up and have a beer? Well, now you can do both. In a development that might just be the most Colorado thing in Colorado, Brewery Boot Camp transforms the state’s top craft breweries into exercise venues. The idea: Get your sweat on for an hour among the barrels and giant vats, then kick back with that refreshing beer you absolutely just earned. “There has been a real boom in our craft-brewery industry,” Quatrochi says. “And you’ve got to admit: It was pretty inspired of the brewers to create such a perfect matchup between their customers’ love of fitness and their own product.” Ales well that ends well, as they say.

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RELATED: Cheers to canned beer

Get dirty

As our modern lives grow ever more comfortable, there has been a real surge in popularity for grueling and masochistic forms of exercise, such as CrossFit and Tough Mudder races. And Quatrochi thinks he might know why: “Doing hard exercise that really tests your resolve is nothing new – people have done marathons and ultra runs for years,” he says. Rather, Quatrochi suspects that these new “tough” groups are thriving because they build such a strong sense of community and camaraderie among participants. “All the punishing and exhausting aspects of their workouts can be measured against a real team spirit and the encouragement they give each other while seeking shared goals,” he says. “That’s what makes them so successful.”

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Namaste with nature

Yoga is supposedly all about concentration – but have you ever tried focusing while a nine-foot tiger shark peers over your left shoulder? Of all the outré ways to stay fit in Colorado, perhaps none is quite so odd as the Denver Aquarium’s monthly yoga class, which takes place right beside a giant tank filled with razor-toothed sharks. How did this come to be? “Quite a few of Colorado’s cultural venues also feature exercise elements,” Quatrochi says. “Since it’s such common knowledge that people in this state are very active, you generally find there’s more room for creative fitness-based ideas to flourish.”

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If the idea of adopting complex yoga poses inches away from a shark’s snout unbalances your chakras, maybe head down to the Butterfly Pavilion instead. Inside a tropical conservatory, surrounded by exotic plants and thousands of beautiful butterflies, you’ll find a truly unique and calming yoga experience. The class has been a big success for the Butterfly Pavilion, and Quatrochi is not in the least surprised: “Coloradans are game to work out pretty much anywhere – no matter how strange the venue – simply as a matter of course,” he says. “Businesses here know by now that if you build it, they will come.”

Elevate your workout?

Heads turned this year when a Colorado-based study found a positive link between cannabis and exercise. And cannabis-centric fitness events are popping up across the state. Last April, Denver saw the inaugural Mile High 4.20K road race to raise awareness and promote cannabis as part of a healthy lifestyle. Yoga and cannabis are also being combined in private studios and events, including the forthcoming High Yoga Retreat being held August 23–25 and September 20–22 in Manitou Springs.

Is it possible that our cannabis-friendly laws might be helping to boost local fitness levels? “Personally, I think that’s a little bit of a stretch,” Quatrochi counters. However, he is interested in the potential benefits of cannabidiol (CBD), which is the nonpsychoactive component of marijuana. “CBD has been shown to bring significant anti-inflammatory and pain relief, which could greatly help with sports injuries.” The World Anti-Doping Agency apparently agrees with him: Last year, the regulatory body removed CBD from its prohibited list.

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