“Active recovery” is a popular buzzword in fitness circles nowadays. Basically, it involves a low intensity workout or physical activity that gets the blood moving. Here in Northern Michigan, we call it getting outside and having fun.

Active recovery days spent in Mother Nature have been specifically shown to help reduce muscle and mental fatigue in athletes. But Up North, this kind of outdoor physical therapy is part of everyday life. Check out these low-impact recreation options and experience for yourself the recuperative powers the outdoors can bring to both body and mind.

Trail Running

Running is good for you. But it’s made even better when you get off the pavement to run along tree-lined trails with the feel of soft, forgiving sand beneath your feet. You have to watch your step, but out on the trail where the terrain is uneven and bumpy you use more muscles. Trail running up and down hills tests your endurance better than road running. Negotiating obstacles requires a greater degree of balance.

There are over 100 miles of designated trails in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Thirteen trails are located on the mainland. Trail maps are available at the visitor center, or at the trailhead. A park pass is required for all trail use within the Lakeshore. Click here for fee information and here for a complete list of mainland trails along with information of each trail’s length, location and trail features.

Climb A Dune

One of the most grueling parts of the M-22 Challenge—a locally famous triathlon-style event—happens during the running portion of the event when participants face the Dune Climb.

Simply walking to the top of the Dune Climb is strenuous. Running 100 yards straight up the thing is a sheer test of will even if you’re confident about your physical abilities before you start. The good thing about the Dune Climb is that gravity is on your side on the return to the bottom.

A lot of visitors forget that there is also a trail at the top of the Dune Climb that runs all the way to Lake Michigan. During the 3.5 round trip, you can expect to be climb and descend several steep dunes before you get to the lake. Hiking the whole trail to and from the lake and back to the parking area can take anywhere from three to four hours, depending on your level of conditioning and the weather.

River of Peace

Canoeing and kayaking are typically thought of as lazy activities best enjoyed on a sunny weekend afternoon. And so what? If you’re looking for a healthy dose of Mother Nature and an activity that gets the blood moving, canoeing and kayaking down a Northern Michigan river is always time well spent.

It can also be a pretty good workout when your main motivation is speed. Even negotiating a river as tame as the Crystal River in Glen Arbor can test your aerobic fitness, strength and flexibility. Some specific health benefits include: improved cardiovascular fitness; increased muscle strength, particularly in the back, arms, shoulders and chest; increased torso and leg strength, as the strength to power a canoe or kayak comes mainly from rotating the torso and applying pressure with your legs; and reduced risk of wear-and-tear on joints and tissues, since paddling is a low-impact activity.

Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’

Ever heard of “roller skis”? First created as a summer training alternative for Nordic cross-country and skate-skiers, roller skis can be used on pavement and require virtually the same techniques, stamina and endurance as is needed when skiing on snow.

While biking is definitely the number one activity enjoyed on the multi-use Sleeping Bear Dunes Heritage Trail—now totally 9.5 paved miles linking Empire with Grand Arbor—roller skiers are becoming more common every year.

Right now, a set of roller skis can run anywhere from $150 to $300, and that doesn’t include the boots and poles. It’s only a matter of time until local Glen Arbor rental shops see the potential in this growing sport and start offering gear for customers to try.

Rental options for inline skates (a.k.a. Rollerblades™) are much more easily found, and the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is an incredibly fun place for giving them a try—especially if you’re rollerblading experience has so far been relegated to negotiating busy downtown intersections and cracked city sidewalks.