Can incorporating the great outdoors into our fitness regimes provide any health benefits?
Hospitalised patients facing windows supposedly recover faster than those with no view other than the four walls of their room. Spending time in the great outdoors reduces stress levels and provides perspective. Life seems more manageable when you’re taking a stroll, surrounded by trees, animals and blue skies.
In 1984, E Wilson created the Biophilia hypothesis, suggesting we are born with an emotional connection for other living organisms. He proposed the idea that we have an unavoidable predisposition to desire contact with nature, a desire which is in fact embedded in our biology.
But with this in mind, what stops us from leaving the comfort of our homes for a brisk walk or fresh morning run?
Remember looking outside the window with all the best intentions of going for a run? Remember seeing the gloomy grey skies, the trees blowing ferociously and suddenly feeling the chill come over your body, as if you were already battling the cold weather outside?
Well, that’s one factor.
The motivation of wanting to be fit, exercise and look after ourselves battles with our survival instincts to stay warm, safe and comfortable. The caveman/woman in us perceives far less danger in our living rooms than outside, in that potentially harmful blustery weather.
Another argument against the great outdoors is there’s much to be said about the social interaction found in enclosed places such as gyms. I used to despise training in a confined space, full of people I was 99% sure were looking at me, but when a friend joined me each week, my motivation changed. The truth was, once I had someone to workout with, I stopped going to the gym to get fit and instead went so I could reap the social rewards.
The problem is, there are many excuses to stay indoors and not workout, or workout but join a gym. Whilst nature doesn’t provide barbells or smith machines, there is much to be said about exercising outside.
It may not help your overall fitness goal to gain a certain amount of muscle, but a short walk or run is not to be sniffed at when you see the mental health benefits.
Let’s get the obvious pros out of the way first:
It’s no secret that ‘green exercise’ i.e physical exercise undertaken outside, reduces stress.
Committing to even one weekly ‘post-work’ run won’t only de-stress you, it can impact the way in which you handle stresses yet to come. In a collection of studies, it’s been proven that green exercise has an “immunising effect, protecting us from future stresses”.
In this day and age, we’re surrounded by distractions and pressure, both in the real world and digitally. Finding ways to protect ourselves from those future stresses is an incredible gift. Whilst money can be tight and time can seem tighter, all it takes is a short burst of energy in the great outdoors to reap countless mental health benefits.
So we’ve covered stress, but is there something deeper to be found in the beauty of the open air?
A study was conducted using 10 outdoor spaces such as forests, canals and even a ‘green gym’. Participants were made to exercise in said environments and were then tested on how they felt afterwards. As a result, 9 out of the 10 case studies reported an increase in self-esteem.
The fact that going outside and working our bodies will not only physically improve us, but boost something as deep rooted and delicate as our self-esteem, is empowering.
And not only that:
Mood changes reportedly saw significant improvements in most of the case studies. Anger, depression and anxiety are just a few examples which experienced positive changes after time spent exercising outdoors. Participants saw positive changes, regardless of intensity, duration or type of ‘green’ activity.
So what does this mean for us?
We should most definitely be incorporating outdoor exercise into our fitness regimes.
You don’t fancy a run? Go for a ten minute walk. Put your phone down and enjoy your surroundings. Use the time to think about and appreciate the world right outside your front door.
The impact nature can have on our wellbeing is astounding, so it’s time we step outside into the fresh air and move our incredible bodies, surrounded by the life force that allows us to take residence within it — nature.