Over the past few years, there seems to have been a rather large increase in the number of gyms in the suburban landscape……and many of these gyms seem to be opening their doors 24 hours a day; allowing people to exercise whenever they want.
According to the 2016 Profile of the Fitness Industry in Australia, physical activity in gyms is the second highest type of exercise undertaken, with walking being the most common. Obviously, the more people who are getting active the better. But it also results in more and more people doing all of their physical activities indoors. While exercising in a gym obviously has health benefits, something is lacking while stuck inside.
Green exercise is, quite simply, exercising in a natural environment! Instead of being stuck on a treadmill, an exercise bike or a weights bench, green exercise is all about being outdoors, and performing your physical activities in a more natural setting. This can be a park or garden; a walking or hiking trail; or really, anywhere that allows you to get some fresh air in a natural, outdoor environment.
A lot of research has been done into the benefits of green exercise. Studies have shown that there are many benefits of green exercise in comparison to exercising indoors.
Exercise has many clear health benefits; with positive effects on both physical and mental health. But one of the biggest challenges in getting people to exercise is motivation.
For many people, being stuck in a gym is a rather boring prospect. By venturing into a green environmental space for exercise, it is possible that individuals may experience much more enjoyment from their exercise; as well as getting a type of escapism from their everyday lives. This may both improve adherence to an exercise program and encourage more positive exercise behaviours, resulting in better health outcomes.
PERCEPTION OF EFFORT
Exercising in a natural, outdoor environment has shown to reduce the amount of perceived effort required for physical activity. When compared to indoor exercise, many individuals tend to exercise at a higher intensity when outside, for the same perceived effort. This, of course, is good news….as it suggests that exercising outdoors means people will tend to work a little bit harder without realising it, which can lead to greater health benefits.
It is often suggested that this reduction in perceived effort is a result of constant distractions. In an outdoor environment, scenery is constantly changing and there are different noises always appearing; in addition to constantly changing terrain and the occasional appearance of obstacles to avoid. With the mind focusing on these different stimuli, there is a reduction in the awareness of physiologic sensations and negative emotions commonly associated with exercise; which can explain the reduced perception in effort while exercising in a more natural environment.
MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS
In addition to the reduction in perceived efforts, the distractions provided by a constantly changing outdoor environment can provide a much needed change in focus….giving a temporary break from the daily stresses many of us experience.
Exercising in a green environment has also shown to reduce levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body. Reductions in these hormones can lead to lower levels of stress….which is obviously a huge benefit for mental health. Some studies have shown that being in a green environment for just 5 minutes is enough to start reducing stress levels; so exercising outdoors is a great way to help manage the stress of everyday life.
A BETTER OVERALL WORKOUT
While exercising indoors can be an excellent environment for structured workouts, green exercise can provide a bit more of a challenge to the body. With constantly changing terrain and obstacles, we have to incorporate different muscle groups on a regular basis during our exercise, to allow us to balance properly and adjust our movements when required. This means our core muscles are being used on a more regular basis….muscles which may not be utilised as much in a structured indoor workout. Exercising indoors often allows for specific movements to be achieved to focus on certain muscle groups; whereas green exercise is able to provide a more total body workout.
VITAMIN D PRODUCTION
Vitamin D is a vital nutrient to help the body absorb calcium, which together help keep bones strong and healthy. Vitamin D may also play a role in muscle function and a healthy immune system. But what is the best source of vitamin D? Sunlight!
When outdoors, the body naturally produces vitamin D as a result of exposure to UVB radiation. Here in Australia, only a couple of minutes of sun exposure a day can allow the body to produce enough vitamin D.
Exercising outdoors is obviously a great benefit here, as it allows for plenty of sunlight to hit the skin! But of course, there is a fine balance….you need to make sure your skin is not receiving too much UV radiation from the sun, to avoid the risk of skin cancer. The Cancer Council of Australia provides some good advice on this topic.
BEFORE YOU HEAD OUT…..
Just remember, there are a few things to consider when taking your exercise outdoors. While a small amount of sunlight is beneficial, too much can cause problems; so be sure to cover up and protect your skin.
Staying hydrated is vital to keep the body functioning at its best, so be sure to keep your fluid levels up. Also remember that you may not have ready access to a fresh supply of drinking water, so be sure to take your own.
Exercising outdoors means you are exposed to the elements. Make sure that you are wearing clothing which is appropriate for the conditions…..you don’t want to overheat or freeze! Exercising in the early morning or later at night is a good idea during the hotter months; while the chill of winter can be managed slightly better by heading out in the middle of the day.
Exercising outdoors in a natural environment has many clear health benefits. Don’t restrict yourself to the same old indoor workouts….head outside and enjoy some green exercise!