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  • Writer's pictureJackie

Why You Should Work Out Outdoors

The Benefits of "Green" Exercise



Did the monotony of recent stay-at-home orders send you outside a whole lot more? Maybe you escaped into “permissible” activities like walking, biking,hiking, or working in the yard. Looking through social media posts tells me a lot of folks got hooked on the great outdoors (ironically, during “lockdowns”). There are good reasons for this—and excellent ones to keep getting out there on a regular basis.


Being physically active outdoors brings unique benefits. Maybe you’ve noticed some of the following advantages. Others may surprise you...

BACK TO OUR ROOTS

Have you felt that singular calm that comes from moving in amidst nature? Many of us mention walks through the woods or alongside the ocean as almost ineffable experiences—We can’t find the right words to describe the them. We just know these little forays feel “right.” Some researchers believe that, because we descend from hunter-gatherers, we all possess an innate love of nature and are genetically inclined to interact with the outdoors. (Wilson EO, Biophelia) Perhaps this is why we come back home from outdoor workouts a bit more peaceful.


WORKOUTS SEEM LESS TOUGH OUTDOORS

A funny thing happens when people exercise outside. Studies show that they work harder without seeming to realize it, reporting lower rates of perceived exertion. Think about jogging down a wooded trail versus plugging away on a treadmill. Somehow, the time goes faster & the effort feels more exhilarating than exhausting when we're breathing fresh air, under a green canopy or a big blue sky, or even soaking in a summer rain. Researchers believe that, like listening to music, nature provides a pleasant distraction from the monotony and effort of some workouts.


"GREEN" WORKOUTS MAKE US FEEL BETTER ABOUT OURSELVES

Amazingly, research shows that after just five minutes of outdoor exercise, self esteem improves! Most of us know that simply working out makes us feel better about ourselves. We build a sense of empowerment and agency by moving and challenging our bodies. Apparently, we can speed this sense of self appreciation by spending some time doing so outside.


THEY ALSO IMPROVE MOOD, LOWER STRESS & RELIEVE DEPRESSION

While both aerobic and strength training have generally been linked with improved mental health, outdoor workouts have a greater impact on mental health than do indoor ones. Adding nature to the mix reduces stress. In studies, adrenaline, noradrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol all dropped after subjects spent time in nature, suggesting that exposure to nature affects stress systems in the body. "Green" workouts have consistently been shown to improve negative mood, including tension, anger and depression.


ADD TO THESE, THE BENEFIT OF SUNLIGHT

Of course, exercising in sunlight requires protection of both skin and eyes, but briefly baring them benefits health. The body produces vitamin D (which aids in bone & tooth formation and helps maintain heart action & nervous system function) when skin absorbs sunlight. In winter, light hitting the retina of the eye can help ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) by regulating levels of seratonin and melatonin.


So, having said all this, WHY would we do all of our summer workouts indoors? Even just a couple of "green" ones a week surely give us a boost. I've been dragging my cardio step and kickboxing stuff to the deck regularly. My conclusion: All of the above holds true!



For the main source on this post, check out this research article published in Extreme Physiology & Medicine.


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