Darin Bensinger went on a 30-mile bike ride the other day, as well as a three-mile run. He says the warm weather has helped get him more active, but so has the activity itself.

"Especially after losing the weight, I've got more energy and want to exercise," said Bensinger, 35, an accountant who lives in Munster. "It doesn't feel like a chore anymore. It feels like I want to go do it."

Bensinger, a contestant in The Times' Lose 17 in '17 weight-loss contest, has dropped nearly 60 pounds since January. He recently underwent a surgery that caused him to have to rest for a few weeks.

"Laying around after my surgery, I didn't feel the same," he said. "I was very lazy and tried. Now that I'm out running again I feel like myself again."

He and his fellow Lose 17 in' 17 participants have been ramping up their physical activity this summer, having shed nearly 400 pounds so far this year.

Jim Sharp, a contestant from Crown Point, rode 15 miles on his bike Sunday. He said the higher temperatures motivate him to exercise more.

"I definitely prefer working out outdoors with the warm weather," said Sharp, 52, a government leasing agent. "If I can walk outside, if I can ride outside — anything outside versus sitting on a treadmill."

Dina Berry, a personal trainer at Franciscan Health Fitness Centers in Schererville, recommends that people use the summer weather and beauty of nature to their advantage. She suggests finding a park you like to walk in, then stop at benches along the way to do pushups, dips and step-ups, for a full-body workout.

She said it's also easy — and fun — to stay active while on vacation.

"Any swimming you can do, whether it be in a pool or body of water, is an excellent form of cardio," she said. "You can take the time to explore while on vacation, which would include walking several miles or hiking in a safe, supervised area."

Research has found that working out in nature has added benefits. A 2011 British study found that exercising outdoors led to greater feelings of revitalization and less depression and anger. Another study from Britain, this one from 2010, revealed that so-called "green" exercise improved mood and self-esteem. A 2010 review of research from Japan determined that spending time in forests rather than urban environments reduces the stress hormone cortisol, pulse rate and blood pressure.

Melissa Diekelmann, a contestant who lives in Merrillville, has been visiting family and working a summer job in western Massachusetts recently. She said being out of town around loved ones has actually helped keep her diet and exercise routine consistent.

"My sister makes me accountable for what I'm eating and my brother-in-law goes to the gym with me," said Diekelmann, a 32-year-old special education teacher.

Traci Hanley, a Lose 17 in '17 participant from Griffith, said it's easier to be active in the summer. The hard part is sticking to a healthy diet.

"I had 10 graduation parties last month, endless barbecues and birthday parties," she said. "Yet I still managed to lose 3 pounds. Now if I'm going to a graduation party, I eat a light breakfast."

In that sense, Hanley, a 47-year-old stay-at-home mom, has learned to be more mindful of her eating. For instance, if she goes out for burgers on Saturday night, she has half a cheeseburger, a few fries and no milkshake. "And during the week, it's a lot of vegetables and protein," she said.

Contestant Ed Bermes, of Portage, exercises outdoors year-round. Part of it is strategic: He's training for the Chicago Marathon in October, when the weather will be anybody's guess. One year, the race was canceled because of the heat; another, there was snow on the ground.

"I actually don't mind running when the weather is real bad, he said. "I only hate running in the wind — that's about it. I don't mind the snow. I don't mind the cold. I don't mind the rain. I won't run if it's below zero, but if it's 5 degrees I'll run."

Bermes actually prefers running in the cold rather than the extreme heat. All in all, he just savors being in nature.

"I like running in the fall with the trees and everything is pretty,"  said Bermes, 57, a personal custom clothier. "If it's raining, that's like a little challenge. It throws you off a little bit and no one else is out there, and you're out there.

"I'll tell you something I like: running in the winter, maybe just after it snows a quarter-inch and everything's pure white. I just enjoy running outside."

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Health reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.