The 5 Amazing Benefits of Outdoor Exercise

Benefits of Outdoor Exercise 

“Nature is the physician of disease.”
— Hippocrates

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When most people think of exercise, they typically think of hitting the indoor gym. While that may seem like the only practical option during the cold, snowy winter months, or during the blistering heat of summer, there is overwhelming evidence that exercising outdoors, otherwise referred to as green exercise, is better for you - both physically and mentally. 

This idea isn't new, in fact, the healing power of nature, from the Latin: vis medicatrix naturae is one of the guiding principles of Hippocratic medicine and evolutionary biology and viewed as an essential factor in maintaining and restoring one's health. [14]

Movement outdoors is intrinsically tied to our humanity. For 99% of human history, not only have we lived off the land and sought nature for basic survival and health, but also for pleasure and physical activity too. [1] 



Here are the five most profound benefits of outdoor exercise.


BENEFIT #1: You’ll boost your immune system

Take the opportunity to go outside to train. Research shows that the percentage of green space in one's environment has a positive association with health. [2]

Being in nature is a great way to give your immune system a boost. Your body behaves differently when you’re in nature, and acts as a natural stimulus for your body to protect itself from disease. Green exercise is used to describe the additional effects of exercise outdoors over and above the physical activity act itself. [3] 

Research tells us the impact that fresh air, grass, trees and the colours of the natural environment have on mental health and physical well-being. [4] 

Other research highlights that an average of 30 minutes spent in nature leads to increased physical activity and lower prevalence of high blood pressure and depression. [5] 



BENEFIT #2: You’ll get a burst of Vitamin D

Yes, going for some exercise in the sun is an excellent way to get some Vitamin D. [6] 

It’s one reason why people who seem to spend so much time outdoors appear to be so healthy. Every time the sun is shining and hitting exposed skin on your body, it’s triggering your body to produce more Vitamin D. Bear in mind that if you live north of San Francisco, California, or south of Melbourne, Australia, then you will not get adequate Vitamin D exposure during winter.

Vitamin D deficiency is increasingly common, especially in young children, the elderly, and people who live in the northern hemisphere. 

Deficiency can lead to brittle bones, osteoporosis, and the bone disorder called rickets. Deficiency has also been linked to an increased risk of autoimmune diseases, increased cancer risk, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and depression. [7] 

Primal Play Vitamin D Sunshine Outdoor Exercise

BENEFIT #3: You’ll burn more calories

Performing the same exercise outdoors is better for you than doing the same activity indoors. That may sound counter-intuitive – how is that possible? - until you consider that working out in a climate-controlled environment does not supply the same stress to your body as working out in an environment that has high (or cold) temperatures and changing terrain which affects gait [9].

Research from the University of Exeter has found that road runners burn more calories when running at the same speed than treadmill runners, mainly because of the wind resistance they encounter [8]. 



BENEFIT #4: You’ll release more feel-good hormones

Want to get a big smile on your face? Get some exercise outdoors. There’s a scientific reason why people feel so energised and full of enthusiasm after exercising outdoors - your body is releasing feel-good hormones like dopamine.

A study at the University of Queensland, Australia, found that those who exercised outdoors on a regular basis had higher levels of serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood, than those who workout mainly indoors. They also had higher levels of endorphins, the post-exercise rush that occurs after exercise when exercising outside, especially in green environments. [12] 



BENEFIT #5: You’ll work out longer and harder

Working out indoors can lead to boredom and fatigue. Just think of running on a treadmill staring at the same point on the wall for miles at a time. By contrast, when you decide to exercise outdoors, you are seeing new people, new scenery and generally enjoying your time more. That means you are “nudged” to work out longer.

One research study asked people to go for on two walks - one indoor, one outdoors – and then compared the responses. Guess which walk, on average, lasted longer? During self-paced walking outdoors, individuals walk faster and work harder, but report lower perceived exertion compared to indoors treadmill-based walking. [13, 15, 16]

Research in older adults finds that you are more likely to do more physical activity outdoors than indoors because the environment is more stimulating and leads to more enjoyment [10]. You feel more energetic and enthusiastic, so you work out longer and harder, with a decrease in levels of tension or anger. [4]


I LIVE IN A CITY HOW much 'NATURE' is there?

Even in a capital city like London there are options to playout and interact with nature. A little-known fact, London is the greenest city of its size in the world. Almost half of Greater London is green space. [11]  There are many options available to me within a relatively short distance from home.

But wherever you live, don't labour over the lack (or abundance) of green space - just use it, whether a short distance from home, in your local or distant park or a weekend away that allows you to explore, play and move in green space.


P.S. Have a look at the 30-day Animal Moves Challenge, an online video program. It helps you to get stronger, healthier and feel great in 30-days.


REFERENCES/RESOURCES

[1] O'Keefe JH, Vogel R, Lavie CJ, Cordain L, "Achieving hunter-gatherer fitness in the 21(st) century: back to the future.", Am J Med. (2010 Dec)

[2] Maas J, Verheij RA, Groenewegen PP, de Vries S, Spreeuwenberg S. "Green space, urbanity, and health: how strong is the relation?" J Epidemiol Community Health. (2006)

[3] Pretty J, Peacock J, Sellens M, Griffin M. "The mental and physical health outcomes of green exercise." Int J Environ Heal Res. (2005)

[4] Thompson Coon J, Boddy K, Stein K, Whear R, Barton J, Depledge MH. "Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review." Environ Sci Technol. (2011)

[5] Shanahan, D. F. et al. "Health Benefits from Nature Experiences Depend on Dose." Sci. Rep. 6, 28551. (2016)

[6] Gladwell, Valerie F et al. “The Great Outdoors: How a Green Exercise Environment Can Benefit All.” Extreme Physiology & Medicine 2. (2013)

[7] "The Nutrition Science", https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/, accessed 27 Jan (2017)

[8] Jones AM, Doust JH."A 1% treadmill grade most accurately reflects the energetic cost of outdoor running." J Sports Sci. (1996 Aug)

[9] Fellin, Rebecca E., Kurt Manal, and Irene S. Davis. “Comparison of Lower Extremity Kinematic Curves During Overground and Treadmill Running.” Journal of Applied Biomechanics 26.4 (2010)

[10] Kerr J, Sallis JF, Saelens BE, Cain KL, Conway TL, Frank LD, King AC. "Outdoor physical activity and self rated health in older adults living in two regions of the U.S.", Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. (2012 Jul) 

[11] “Greenspace Information for Greater London", http://www.gigl.org.uk/our-data-holdings/keyfigures/ (2015), accessed 26 Jan 2017

[12] "Paleo Fitness: Primal Training and Nutrition Program to Get Lean, Strong and Healthy", Darryl Edwards, Ulysses Press, (2013)

[13] Focht, B.C. "Brief walks in outdoor and laboratory environments: Effects on affective responses, enjoyment, and intentions to walk for exercise.", Res. Quart. Exerc. Sport (2009)

[14] Bynum, W. F. "Nature's helping hand". Nature. (2001)

[15] Marsh, A.P.; Katula, J.A.; Pacchia, C.F.; Johnson, L.C.; Koury, K.L.; Rejeski, W.J. "Effect of treadmill and overground walking on function and attitudes in older adults." Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. (2006) 

[16] DaSilva, S.G.; Guidetti, L.; Buzzachera, C.F.; Elsangedy, H.M.; Krinski, K.; de Campos, W.; Goss, F.L.; Baldari, C. "Psychophysiological responses to self-paced treadmill and overground exercise." Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. (2011)