Exercising in nature is also known as “green exercise.” There are many benefits to overall health to exercising outdoors - including improved mental health as well as physical health. A report from Extreme Physiology & Medicine compiles the data to show how green exercise can improve physiological, psychological, biochemical, and social benefits - helping prevent disease and support rehabilitation.
1. Green Exercise and Mental Health
Psychology Today reports on the mental health benefits of going outdoors and exercising. Beyond “getting some fresh air,” getting to green spaces and moving in them has broad benefits to adult and child wellbeing.
“Access to green areas such as parks and nearby countryside has been shown to enhance cognitive functioning, reduce stress, improve sensory and motor skills in both children and adults, and ameliorate the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children.”
2. Green Exercise and Vitamin D
Time in the great outdoors, in natural sunlight, is also thought to increase serotonin levels. Seratonin is a mood-enhancing chemical linked with well-being and happiness. Vitamin D, absorbed from sun exposure, can also help overall health. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to chronic diseases including osteoporosis, heart disease, and some cancers.
3. Green Exercise and Motivation
Getting outside might also be a motivation for getting more movement and exercise in general. The report from Extreme Physiology & Medicine finds that green outdoors - because it’s more fun - might increase our motivation to exercise. “Green exercise may help motivation to undertake physical activity by increasing enjoyment and escapism from everyday life, with both a social and entertainment value….There is even some evidence to suggest that exercise may feel easier when performed in the natural environment. When allowed to self-select walking speed, participants tend actually to walk faster outdoors, compared to indoors. Paradoxically, they report a lower rating of perceived exertion.”
Tips for Making the Most of Green Exercise
- Bring water to stay hydrated
- Wear UV-protective clothing and UV-blocking sunscreens
- Find a friend or family member to explore local parks, mountains, green spaces, and natural wonders