Take Exercise Outdoors for Additional Health Benefits
It’s often a lot more appealing and generally a lot more convenient to head to the temperature-controlled gym, than for the nearest field, forest or beach; especially in the winter. A growing body of research however, suggests that if we choose to hit the treadmill rather than the hill, we might be missing out on a number of physical and mental health benefits…
Mental Health & Outdoor Exercise
The mental health benefits of exercise have been established for some time now. Scientific research dating back to the start of the 1980s has concluded that regular exercise can improve mood in the vast majority of people.
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 1999, examined the impact of aerobic exercise on men and women with major depression. Exercise was so effective, that the study concluded that an exercise training programme may be considered an alternative treatment to antidepressants. In addition, a follow up study conducted six months later found that exercise was a more robust treatment than antidepressants, with the ‘exercise group’, less likely to relapse.
What is perhaps, less well known, is that the benefits of exercise can be enhanced by exercising outdoors.
A study conducted in 2010 assessed the effect of nature and ‘green exercise’ (outdoor exercise) on mental wellbeing. Researchers collected information from 10 different studies carried out in the UK. They concluded that exercise in an outdoor environment improved both self-esteem and mood; and that the presence of water generated even greater effects in terms of mental wellbeing. So, a run on the beach might be one of the best overall forms of exercise you can do, if you’re looking for a boost to your mood and general wellbeing.
Additional research has also shown that exercising outdoors results in lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol, when compared with exercising indoors. Exposure to sunlight too, can lead to the production of more of the mood-lifting chemical – serotonin.
Even in the absence of strenuous exercise, being in the outdoors has a range of mental health benefits, including enhanced clarity and focus. Author & journalist Richard Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” in his 2008 book Last Child in the Woods based on nature’s ability to calm the mind and improve self-control in some people. In addition, just visiting the seaside has been proven to enhance mood & wellbeing, whilst living by the coast is associated with improved general health.
Physical Benefits of Outdoor Exercise
To magnify the benefits of running, go outside!
Running outside is more difficult than running on a treadmill down at the local gym. Studies have shown that treadmill runners expend less energy covering the same distance. This is thought to be due to the air/wind resistance experienced outdoors, a well as the changes in terrain and in gradient.
Speaking of declines, downhill running is also associated with increases in strength and speed. Often difficult to carry out on a treadmill, downhill running places a greater ‘eccentric load’ on the leg muscles, resulting in significant gains in muscle & tendon strength. Proceed with caution however, as a large volume of downhill running can result in a correspondingly large amount of muscle and joint soreness.
Sessions of outdoor exercise, also tend to last longer. If you choose to primarily exercise outdoors – you may find that you enjoy it so much, that you do a lot more of it than you would if you went to the gym. A study conducted in 2012, reported that older adults who exercised outdoors, would exercise for longer, and would also exercise more frequently than their peers who exercised indoors.
So, next time you head to the coast for your family holiday, remember to take your running shoes and enjoy the benefits of exercising outdoors.