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Why Outdoor Workouts May Be Better for You

 

“Green exercise” has become very popular in the past year. Basically, it’s any form of exercise performed outdoors – often with a group – while enjoying the natural scenery. From yoga sessions on the beach to pop-up tai chi classes in the town park, many localities and fitness centers around the country have moved exercise classes outdoors in the past year to promote social distancing and limit exposure to COVID-19. Green exercise surged during the pandemic and the trend may permanently change the way we work out – even if exercising outdoors is not actually a new concept.

...green exercise has become so popular that it looks like the trend may permanently change the way we work out... Click To Tweet

Just think about it – for the majority of the time that humans have existed, most of our physical exercise has taken place outdoors in nature, whether hunting, farming, or migrating to new lands on foot. Even today in the original blue zones where people live the longest, residents don’t consciously think about working out. Instead, exercise is naturally built into their daily lives without a second thought. And as you might have already guessed – the majority of their exercise takes place outdoors whether they’re gardening, farming, walking, or riding a bike.

Even today in the original blue zones where people live the longest, residents don’t consciously think about working out. Click To Tweet

In the original blue zones region of Ikaria, a tiny island in Greece, people naturally move while raising and tending their gardens or foraging for wild greens. In Nicoya, a peninsula in Costa Rica where the number of centenarians is more than three times the world average, many residents farm and walk or ride horseback to get from place to place.

The encouraging lesson we can learn from these longest-lived populations is that if we want to integrate more exercise into our own lives to be healthier, we can do it without any special tools or class registration required.

The encouraging lesson we can learn from these longest-lived populations is that if we want to integrate more exercise into our own lives to be healthier, we can do it without any special tools or class registration required. Click To Tweet

Is Exercising Outdoors Really Better for You?

Yes! Exercising outdoors is better for you because the benefits are two-fold. You simultaneously get the health benefits of exercise while also enjoying the positive side-effects of being outdoors in nature.

You simultaneously get the health benefits of exercise while also enjoying the positive side-effects of being outdoors in nature. Click To Tweet

Research, in fact, has shown that exercising outdoors can promote better mental health by improving positivity, self-esteem, and mood, and helping to reduce negative feelings of tension, anger, and depression. One study showed the biggest impacts were evident almost immediately within the first five minutes of “green” exercise.

While more research is needed, there is evidence that green exercise may also have numerous physiological benefits. One Japanese study that looked at the benefits of forest bathing proved that being outdoors in forest environments resulted in lower pulse rates, blood pressure, and lower cortisol levels, compared with city settings.

The study also reinforces what other separate research has shown — that we as humans have a predisposed desire to connect with nature including the plants and animals in the world around us.

Time spent in nature has also been touted as a way to combat the psychological effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Healing Power of Sunlight

An important advantage to taking your workout outside is exposure to sunlight. While too much sun can cause skin damage, some sun exposure is actually good for us. Sunlight causes our brains to produce serotonin and its ultraviolet-B radiation prompts our skin to make Vitamin D.

Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium, phosphate and magnesium and is important for muscles, bones, and teeth. People who don’t get enough Vitamin D are more susceptible to conditions such as osteoporosis, and in severe cases the lack of this vitamin can cause rickets in children.

Serotonin improves mood, promotes calmness, and can help us stay more focused. It’s triggered by the sun, just like melatonin that helps us sleep at night is released in our brains by darkness. 

Besides boosting serotonin and Vitamin D levels, sunlight helps to promote the healing of wounds and relieve skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and even acne, and may have uses in treating conditions that range from lupus to rheumatoid arthritis.

Research has even shown that sunlight may reduce the risk of some kinds of cancer including Hodgkin’s lymphoma and ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and colon cancers.

How to Get More Green Exercise

From barre and dance classes in Boston, curbside fitness with open-air “studios” in New York City, to beachside boxing and cycling in Santa Monica, fitness instructors and gyms across the country found creative ways to make exercising outdoors both challenging and fun. 

 

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Though organized classes are a great way to be social and connect with your community, incorporating more green exercise into your life can be as simple as taking a short walk outdoors in your local park or around your neighborhood every day. Just find a time that fits into your schedule whether that be mornings before work, during your lunch break, or in the evenings after dinner. If the weather where you live gets chilly, just add more layers. If you want to get even more benefits from your walk, invite along a friend or two and make it a time to socialize and catch up with your moai. One of the reasons outdoor pop-up classes are so popular is that they’ve helped to alleviate isolation during the pandemic and provided a safe outdoor environment for people to gather and be together.

There are many other ways to get more exercise outdoors, from bike riding and kayaking to hiking and skiing. Or if you want something more structured, sign up for an outdoor exercise class through your local parks and rec department or fitness center. Whatever you do, don’t forget to take a deep breath while you’re outdoors, soak up some healthy sunlight, and remind yourself that what you’re doing is good for you, and you’re worth it.

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