Sports in the open air

The programme for a happier body and mind

The mountains are calling! And more and more people are heeding their call. Sports scientist and exercise therapist Maximilian Stangl from the Park Igls health retreat explains why mountain sports and outdoor exercise in general are not only on trend, but also very good for you from a sports- therapeutic perspective.

Stangl’s eyes light up as he discusses his areas of expertise: exercise and the mountains. He is convinced that human beings benefit from any form of exercise – and that nature maximises these effects. Simply put, it’s in our very nature.

  • Our circulation is stimulated
  • Our muscles are doing what they were designed for
  • Our joints are lubricated
  • The cocktail of chemical messengers circulating in both our body, and – more importantly – our brain, is balanced
  • Our emotions are positively affected
  • Our mood is further enhanced because we have done something good for ourselves
Gesundheitszentrum Park Igls in Tirol


‘Exercising out in the fresh air multiplies its positive effects and has further benefits on top,’ Stangl explains. For example, numerous studies have proven that trees and other plants release chemical signals into the air that strengthen our immune system. There is also evidence of the health benefits of UV radiation from prudent amounts of sun exposure. However, ‘if you only feel comfortable going out in blue skies and sunshine, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you,’ the exercise expert laughs. ‘Regularly getting out of the cosy comfort zone of your home and feeling the heat, cold, wind, rain and snow against your skin not only makes you more resilient, but also makes you happier and feel more alive.’

To ensure that the mood-boosting effects kick in quickly and endure, the sports therapist recommends using the first five to ten minutes for a warm-up. During this time, you should perform your chosen activity at a moderate pace, slowly increasing the intensity rather than going ‘full-speed ahead’ from the start. ‘That allows us to adjust physically and mentally to the exercise. If you feel motivated, it’s also worth incorporating a few full-body exercises at the start of a warm-up. Mobility exercises and gentle stretches like the ones taught at Park Igls are perfect for this,’ he says. In any event, whether you are running, walking or cycling, you need to adapt the exercise intensity to your current fitness level. If you are tempted to overdo things, you risk injury due to reduced levels of concentration and movement precision.


Gesundheitszentrum Park Igls in Tirol

One activity Stangl recommends as suitable for almost anyone is walking. The speed, he leaves up to you to decide. Whether it’s a full day tour of the mountains, an afternoon lap of the woods or a half-hour walk through the village, the movement pattern always remains the same. ‘Depending on the terrain and duration, we are training our coordination, balance, sure-footedness, endurance and strength – all of which are helpful in everyday life,’ Stangl explains and adds: ‘If you experience joint pain or other symptoms, you should pay attention, adapt what you’re doing and, if in any doubt, consult an expert at the Park Igls health retreat.’


Altitude is highly important when it comes to outdoor pursuits. The exercise therapist explains how long the body needs to acclimatise to the Tyrolean mountains: ‘Altitude sickness can affect some people who visit our mountainous region. This is the result of a reduced supply of oxygen. Not because there is less oxygen in the air as such, but due to the decrease in air pressure the higher you go. On Mount Everest, for instance, the air pressure is only a third of that at sea level. This also explains how Everest climbers can boil water for their tea at just 71°C.’

These effects can also become noticeable at lower altitudes in the form of shortness of breath and a rapid pulse: the body’s reaction is to increase the production of red blood cells, which are responsible for delivering oxygen to the tissues. Competitive athletes make use of this effect to improve their performance by training at high altitudes, although Stangl notes that it takes around a week to adapt properly. However, the effects of reduced air pressure are only palpable to us from around 2,000m above sea level: ‘Park Igls is situated at 900m altitude so our guests needn’t worry about having to wait a week before they’ve acclimatised,’ the expert explains.


‘The natural environment is the habitat we have adapted to as a species. For most of our developmental history, moving within it in a variety of ways has been a prerequisite for our survival,’ says Stangl. ‘It was only during the agricultural and the much later industrial revolution 10,000 and 150 years ago respectively – the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms – that we were ‘freed’ of this. Nevertheless, the human body and its needs are still largely designed for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle – and therefore ideally suited to a life of exercise out in nature.


“Guests who previously joined our walking and hiking excursions will be familiar with the extremely popular routes in our local area.” Stangl reveals his favourites to suit any taste and fitness level:

Leisurely walks around Park Igls:
  • Viller Moor
  • Ullwald
  • Patscher Rosengarten
Moderately challenging walks:
  • Lanser Kopf
  • Viller Kopf
Ambitious hikes:
  • “My top tip: visit our local Patscherkofel mountain with the Heiligwasser pilgrimage church, or head out even further!”
For the less sure-footed:
  • Stangl recommends taking the paved paths to Lans.
Gesundheitszentrum Park Igls in Tirol

Maximilian Stangl – Bachelor of Eduaction, Bachelor of Science, state-certified instructor