To combat the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus, many recurrent gym-goers have begrudgingly turned to home workouts in order to keep themselves and their families safe.
For many, this is the last resort that results in diminished satisfaction and efficacy of the workouts. A better alternative with proven positive physiological and mental outcomes may be just outside your front door – that being outdoor workouts and recreation.
Seeking activity in the great outdoors has a longstanding history that many can trace back to their parents telling them to go outside and play.
While parents may have urged children to do this for reasons such as encouraging us to socialize or even just to carve out a few minutes of peace and quiet; science now supports this prescription with substantiated facts on the advantages of outdoor activity.
Setting the Stage
Before going into the myriad of health benefits that exercising outdoors evokes, I want to pose a question you might have never asked yourself.
What percentage of your time do you spend indoors?
No earthly idea?
Don’t worry you’re not alone, but you may be surprised that the average American spends close to 90% of their time indoors.
This is 90% of your time that you’re limiting your natural light exposure and increasing the pollutants you inhale by 2 to 5 times, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. With that being said, let’s explore what you might gain from some fresh air.
Improvement in Mental Faculties
What’s now referred to as “green exercise” by institutions researching the effects of the natural environment on our bodies has shown significant results in its capacity to improve mental health.
Facets of mental health that showed improvement from time spent outdoors include: stress and anxiety reduction, increase in mental recuperation, attention restoration, and mood elevation.
One mechanism that contributes to these effects is natural light’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood.
Research has shown that this effect on an individual’s mental health is almost immediate with the first five minutes of activity showing significant changes in both mood and perceived self-esteem.
Additionally, it’s not just mental wellbeing that experiences improvements from green exercise. Evidence suggests that our workout experience flourishes when conducted in the outdoors.
One systematic review of green exercise studies suggests that revitalization and engagement in the exercise increases due to these conditions.
Implanting yourself in a green environment with natural stimuli that distract from the workload of the exercise may reduce the perceived exertion of the workout leading to an increase in the physical output you’re capable of during the workout.
Studies comparing indoor versus outdoor activities reported that participants were more likely to repeat the outdoor activities at a later date.
Increase in Physiological Function
As the body of research concerning green exercise grows, associated physical changes are being documented that may shed light on the positive health outcomes exercising in the natural environment generates.
Two organ systems that research indicates are favorably affected by the natural environment, other than the nervous system mentioned previously, is the cardiovascular system and the lymphatic system (more commonly referred to as the immune system).
Your Cardiovascular System Thanks You
In an experiment that studied bodily functions after exercising in a rural setting compared to an urban setting, it was found that post-exercise blood pressures returned to baseline levels faster in the rural setting group.
A different study testing the same theory noticed that blood pressure showed that both systolic and diastolic stayed at a lower level compared to the urban setting group.
It’ll then be no surprise to learn that green exercise has also been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.
A Different Approach to Preventing Cancer and Disease
One way the lymphatic system flourishes from green exercise is the elevated production of Vitamin D caused by extended sun exposure.
Vitamin D for decades has been praised for the role it plays in bone health, but it also plays an integral role in balancing the activation of our body’s immune response.
Japanese studies involving “Forest Bathing”, that is exercising mindfulness while experiencing the forest environment, have documented an increase in the activation of Natural Killer cells and the expression of anti-cancer proteins. Both of which play an important part in the human immune response.
Implications in a Pandemic
Let’s face it, times are hard. The social isolation, disruption in daily routines, inundation with disheartening news is enough to get anyone down. Now more than ever we need safe, effective ways to safeguard our health and bring a bit of joy back into our life.
Seeking solace in the outdoors has been a perennial source of relief for decades before science showed any health benefits. Perhaps it’s because of the connection we share to generations past or perhaps it’s anyone of the reasons I’ve listed above.
Whatever it may be, there’s betterment waiting out in the fields and forest of the great outdoors.
The great thing is that whether you want to do yoga at a park, bodyweight exercises at a playground or just take a walk in the woods – you still get to enjoy the health benefits mentioned above.
And in most cases, you can arrange a pleasant, socially distanced experience that doesn’t risk the health of you or your loved ones. So, get out there, have a beautiful day and be all the better for it.
About The Author:
Trevor Lewis is a freelance writer specializing in Health and Wellness. He’s a fitness and hiking advocate with a penchant for books.
Articles I used as reference: