Visiting your zoo to improve your health, lose weight, and get fit.

Walking through a zoo can improve your health by increasing your circulation, reducing your chances of type II diabetes, heart attack, and in women, breast cancer. The improved circulation and sensory stimulation will also increase your mental alertness.

Actively walking burns calories. The secondary effect is consumption of fewer calories while you are engaged in the activity. Any time your calorie burn rate exceeds your calorie consumption rate you will lose weight.

Walking is a great way to firm up flab, increase your energy and endurance, reduce depression and stress, and improve your outlook on life. Outdoor activity stimulates the senses in many ways that a gym work out can not. You will see flowers bloom, young animals grow, and experience the change in seasons. Best of all, walking outdoors can burn more calories than walking indoors on a track.

Here are our fourteen best tips for zoo walking and increasing weight loss:

  1. Shoes. This is the most important factor of walking. Comfortable sneakers with sox (or footies) are the rule. Skip the exercise sandals, flip flops, and anything else that does not securely fasten to your feet.
  2. Routine. Apply the rule of three. Find at least three walking buddies who are available to meet you at the front gate three times a week. Having companionship reduces the feel of exercise and peer pressure can help prevent missed days. Many zoos are more than happy to set up sign up sheets to assemble foursomes for each day of the week. This is a great way to make new friends and engage in lively conversation. Once you have a threesome or foursome, make sure everyone is contacted before each walk and encouraged to participate.
  3. Take children. Make sure your walking buddies also have children of the same age group. Adults with children should walk with other adults who have children. Singles should walk with singles. The groups with children will always get more exercise than the groups without children.
  4. Timing. Generally, earlier in the day is best. The animals are most active, the air is cool and the crowds have not yet arrived. Most zoos close about 5-6 pm which is still a hot time of day during the summer months. It is not advisable to exercise mid day especially if living in a warm weather climate.
  5. The “Zoo Walk”. This is not a race; the longer it takes the more beneficial your time at the zoo. Walk fast between exhibits. Stop at the exhibits and stand on your toes twice and do one partial squat. D It doesn’t sound like much, but it will have a cumulative effect by the time your visit is complete.
  6. Swing your arms. Arms held at a 90 degree angle can help you burn an additional 5-10% of calories. Arms held at one’s side for long periods of walking can cause hand and wrist swelling. This is why many people carry walking sticks and switch hands throughout their walk. A walking stick will force you to keep at least one arm at a 90 degree angle at all times. While I do not know of any bans on walking sticks, I would advise you to check with your local zoo before showing up with one.
  7. Photo day. Use one of the three days to take photos with a digital camera. Photography takes time, requires concentration, and positioning to get the right shot. Don’t bother getting your pictures developed every time you go. Just save the exceptional shots and delete the rest. For tips on zoo photography visit Zoo and Aquarium Visitor’s web site.
  8. Don’t wimp out. The worse the weather is, the harder your body will have to work and the more calories you will burn. Wear a poncho, rain suit, winter wear, or whatever it takes and get out there. Walking in bad weather will give you some unique memories and a great sense of accomplishment.
  9. Use walking as a path to better health. When you finish walking, DO NOT treat yourself to high calorie fast food. Use walking as an incentive to start a healthy life style and reduce your calorie intake.
  10. Commit to 60 days. If you make it through 60 days, you’ve made it. It is now part of your routine, and you should have bonded with several of your new walking partners. If you have not changed your diet by increasing consumption, you will start to see a weight loss since your calorie burn rate has risen.
  11. Greet the zookeepers during your routine. Most zookeepers keep a schedule and if you are walking at a consistent time every week your paths will cross at the same intersection most walking days. His/her name should be on their shirt. While you don’t want to put them behind on their work schedule, don’t be a stranger.
  12. Become a zoo member. It is much cheaper than paying an individual admittance fee for each visit. Each facility has unique benefits and events for their members. Visit your zoo’s web site to view their membership benefits.
  13. Keep a zoo observation journal. Note what changes take place over the months and the seasons. Check out the colors of plants, fruits and berries, and the activity levels of animals based on the heat and cold. Does the zoo move animals each season? The logs can be a great source of progress and feedback; X miles walked over X days and saw these changes in the animals, plants and myself.
  14. Have realistic expectations. Zoo walking will help change your attitude toward fitness and weight loss. Putting those extra pounds on did not happen overnight, neither will losing them. You can work on technique, adding exercises, and increasing speed once you have established a routine of walking outdoors 3 days a week.

Keep in mind that the zoo’s primary purpose, focus and goal is to display animals to attract and educate the public. No zoo exerciser or program should disrupt the zoo’s primary function. Many zoos use the trails immediately after closing to collect trash from all receptacles, and in the morning the trails are cleaned with leaf blowers before the crowds arrive.

PHOTO #1: North Carolina Zoo staff on an exercise walk through the zoo.

PHOTO #2: North Carolina Zoo staff and members taking an exercise walk in the zoo.

Courtesy of Zoo and Aquarium Visitor

With information and editorial assistance from:

Karen Auman
NC Zoo
Visitor Services Officer

John P. Chapo
Lincoln Children's Zoo

Patricia Mills Janeway
Communications Director
Detroit Zoological Society

Emily Stehle
PR/Marketing Director
Pier Aquarium – St. Petersburg, FL

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