Getting regular exercise has been shown time and time again to help improve both physiological and psychological well-being. Similarly, spending more time in nature (or “green environments”) has been shown to have mood-boosting and immune-strengthening effects.
Worldwide, it’s estimated that at least 1 in 3 adults is mostly sedentary and lacking physical activity. And even among adults who do regularly work out, much of their structured physical activity happens indoors—such as inside gyms, sports halls and within the home. This means that more than ever before, proportionally less physical activity is undertaken outdoors where there’s beneficial natural light.
Research tells us that working out outdoors appears to be even more beneficial to mental health compared to indoor activities. Since time is a precious resource for most adults today, why not get the maximum benefits you can from your workout by doing it in “the great outdoors”?
Here are four reasons to take advantage of the warmer weather this summer by taking your workout outside.
- You’ll get even more mental health benefits
Movement itself plays a protective role when it comes to cognitive/mental health, such as by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress that can contribute to psychological disorders. Studies also have found that significant mood-related benefits tend to occur when workouts are performed in an outdoor environment, including a reduction in fatigue, anxiety and depression, increased energy, and improved mental clarity.
Researchers have known for many years that green and natural spaces are advantageous for our health in many ways. For example, back in the19th century, the development of urban parks became more of a priority in cities because of the benefits they offered to the public’s health. There’s evidence that nature provides an environment that does not require our direct attention, providing restorative properties and giving us a break from mental fatigue and overwhelm.
Many studies have demonstrated that “green exercise” is needed more than ever because it not only improves mental well-being but also improves markers of physiological health, such as blood pressure and cortisol levels. Green exercise also can play a useful role in rehabilitation programs for those overcoming addictions, chronic injuries, etc.
- You’ll feel more “connected”
Experts believe that as part of our genetic makeup, we are innately predisposed to desire contact with nature. It makes sense that we feel calmer and more grounded when we spend time in nature and when we move our bodies regularly, considering that we evolved to exist in outdoor natural environments where physical labor was necessary to survive.
In recent decades, it’s become clear that people’s sense of “connectedness to nature” appears to be declining, as more time is spent inside working long hours, commuting, browsing the internet and watching television. One of the major downsides to spending less time in nature is that we lose our sense of connection to each other and to the great outdoors, which can include forests, ocean or beach settings, countryside, parks, local green areas and even gardens.
- You’ll prevent boredom and be more motivated to stay active
If hitting the gym doesn’t feel appealing or sustainable for you, then consider taking your workout outside to prevent boredom and keep things fresh.
A 2013 study published in the journal Extreme Physiology & Medicine states, “The synergistic combination of exercise and exposure to nature and thus the ‘great outdoors’ could be used as a powerful tool to help fight the growing incidence of both physical inactivity and non-communicable disease.”
Green exercise can make movement more enjoyable, make the time go by quicker, and provide a sense of “escapism from everyday life.” It also can offer both a social and entertainment value, depending on the type you choose to do.
What types of workouts can you do outside with little to no equipment? A few obvious examples include walking, running, cycling or swimming in open water, but don’t rule out bringing your yoga mat outdoors or performing body-weight exercises on any flat lawn or beach. You also can try jumping rope, using a park bench for incline push-ups or step-ups, or running up and down stadium stairs. And if you’re most adventurous, hiking, skiing, rock climbing and mountain biking are all options.
Another way to sneak more fitness into your workday and decrease sitting time, while also getting some fresh air, is to do walking meetings outside with co-workers, to take phone calls while strolling outside your home/office, or to walk to get lunch. Basically, any type of exercise you can do at your desk also can be done outside to break up your day.
- You’ll decrease your risk for vitamin D deficiency
Given that less time is spent outside today, plus that sunblock is commonly worn when people do actually put themselves in direct sunlight, it’s no wonder that vitamin D deficiency is now so common. Our skin makes vitamin D when we expose it, uncovered with no sunscreen, to direct sunlight for about 10 to 20 minutes at a time.
We need vitamin D for immune function, bone health, heart health and much more. And while taking vitamin D supplements can help bring your level up, it’s always ideal to get essential vitamins naturally whenever possible via a healthy diet and lifestyle. The solution? When the weather is warm enough, head outdoors for a walk with your arms and legs exposed, if possible.
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He operates the No. 1 natural health website in the world at DrAxe.com, with more than 15 million unique visitors every month, and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health company that provides history’s healthiest whole-food nutrients to the modern world. He’s author of the books “Eat Dirt,” “Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine” and the just released “Keto Diet: Your 30-Day Plan to Lose Weight, Balance Hormones and Reverse Disease.”
Photo credit: Scott Broome, Unsplash