I’m going to go out on a limb here and say something bold. Exercise is…. wait for it…. good for you. I know, I know it’s this kind of cutting edge information that you come to this site to read. OK so the fact that exercise is good for you is no surprise. But the question I get often about exercise is what type is best. This is a tough question to answer as there really is no right answer for everyone.
You could go to a gym and move metal plates back and forth or run for an hour and still be in the same place.
That’s too boring?
How about joining the Crossfit tribe?
Oh you’re more of an introvert?
Then you could buy the latest “Get fit in 20 minutes per day using only household items” video and work out at home lifting furniture and small pets.
Now afraid you won’t stay motivated?
Did I mention Crossfit?
As you can see there is no one way that is the right way to get exercise. It needs to be interesting to you to keep you motivated.
A recent paper in the journal Extreme Physiology and Medicine looked at a way to exercise that certainly speaks to me and hopefully some of you reading also. This article looked at the benefits of exercising outside to see what additional benefits could be had by taking your workout routine to the great outdoors.
Many articles have been written on both the physical and mental benefits of exercise. Despite all this information activity levels have been on a steady decline in the Western world. At the same time people are losing their connectedness to nature. For 99% of human history we existed as a people by hunting, fishing and working outdoors. Now the most exercise the average person gets outside is walking back and forth from their car getting to and from work. Spending all day inside in front of a computer and the evening sitting in front of a TV is not how the body is designed to work. It is designed to do just that work. The human frame is designed to be up and moving around. If you do that up and moving around outside you can reap greater benefits than doing it in a gym.
Consider some of these benefits of exercising outside covered in this research paper.
People who exercised outdoors or even just had a view of nature felt the exercise they were doing was easier. They quoted a study that had people exercising on a stationary bike divided into three groups. One was watching a scene of a natural environment, one had the same scene with some of the colors filtered out and the third had the same scene with no color. The ones with the full color, natural, view felt the exercise was less demanding. So exercising outdoors could push you to work harder as it feels easier.
One of the key markers for heart health is how quickly your heart rate returns to resting rate after being elevated from exercise. When exercising in nature heart rate returns to normal quicker than when doing the same exercise inside or in an urban environment with no trees or vegetation.
Stress levels as measured by certain hormones are also lower when outside in nature. In one study people were exposed to stressful situations. If they were allowed to just look at a pictures of nature their stress levels and heart rate would return to normal faster than if they didn’t view natural images.
Many people are deficient in vitamin D. Sure you could take a supplement but why not get it the good old fashioned way from the sun? So many are deficient in vitamin D simply because they aren’t outside enough. Taking your exercise routine outside will help this.
One of the big barriers to getting people, and especially kids, outside exercising is the perception one has of the outdoors and natural settings. If you didn’t grow up playing in the woods by yourself, as I did, then you may have fears that it is dangerous. This perception is increasingly causing parents to not let their children out to play in the natural world. It has gotten to the point that there is actually a name for it, nature deficit disorder. Denying our innate need to be outside is contributing to the overall lack of exercise and increases in stress in our lives.
So as you can see taking your exercise routine outside is better for you physically since the perceived effort is less and you may work harder. It benefits you mentally as stress levels are decreased and connects you with the natural world as we have done for thousands of years. And it gets you your much needed vitamin D. So no more excuses about bugs and bears and all those scary things and get outside!
Ref: Extreme Physiology & Medicine 2013, 2:3
By: Dr. Scott Szela