The Great Outdoors.
Sitting at home with a hot water bottle shoved up my jumper, fingerless gloves, and so many layers I look like I’m incapable of getting up off the sofa, let alone ready to take part in any form of exercise. I’m soooo darn cold, I start to wonder if I really believe what I’m about to write about in this week’s blog: the benefits of exercising outdoors. OUTDOORS??? The very thought makes me shiver.
There’s only one thing for it…to write with conviction, I’ve got to practice what I preach. I peel off the layers of coats and thermals, reluctantly put the bottle down (hot water bottle / whisky) and head off to a FREEZING cold Megabox in Penshurst Park.
Within minutes the feeling comes back to me. A happy, buzzy, warm, euphoria that is an unmistakable cocktail of exercise endorphins, vitamin B, and a general love of the great outdoors. And it’s with this feeling warming my insides that I start to write…
Playing outside, for me, is like a natural form of Prozac. Breathing fresh air and seeing green make my mind feel good, as well as my body. Numerous pieces of research show a clear connection between spending time outdoors and a reduction in stress. Closeness to nature is part of it, as is (safe) exposure to sunlight and vitamin D.
But for me, exercising outdoors feels less demanding: I’m busy taking in the view, whilst simultaneously looking at my feet trying desperately to avoid the sheep / cow / dog pooh, fiddling with hood up / hood down as the rain stops and starts…I’m so focused on and distracted by the environment that I notice less how hard I’m working and knackered I feel. This in turn helps me stick to my regime – because my regime doesn’t feel so tough – in fact it feels positively enjoyable.
The other aspect to consider is that sometimes the natural environment can put extra demands on your body, meaning you need to work harder to perform the same exercises.
You stride differently when running outdoors, for one thing. Generally, studies find, people flex their ankles more when they run outside. They also, at least occasionally, run downhill, a movement that isn’t easily done on a treadmill and that stresses muscles differently than running on flat or uphill terrain.
Outdoor exercise can also be more strenuous when you’ve got weather conditions to work against eg wind resistance. This is particularly relevant when running or cycling. Wind drag when cycling outdoors can definitely make a difference to how tough the ride is.
The seasons and their changing conditions for me are a real bonus – getting caught under a huge rain cloud is sooo invigorating, and then seeing the sun reappear again. Watching Mother Nature in action is enough to put a big, fat smile on my face.
I do recognize though that we are very privileged where we are. ‘Green exercise’ isn’t available to everyone, and exercising in ‘unpleasant urban environments’ has been shown to have really negative health consequences on people…so this is by no means a blanket advocation of outdoor exercise.
The other factor to consider is that exercising outdoors does present a unique set of hazards when it comes to sporting injuries. Loose stones, mud, leaves…they’re all lying in wait to make a TOTAL fool of you! I’ve had some classic tumbles that could most definitely have been avoided in the safety of a gym!
To be honest, exercising any which way is brilliant for mind and body and where you’re doing it is a purely personal thang. For some it’s the allure of the gym – climate controlled, convenient, equipment that’s easily personalized to meet your needs, and of course HRF replete with awesome murals to inspire! For others, moving the workout outside gives you more than just the sun on your face. At the end of the day, as long as you’re moving and giving head and heart a good workout then the environment can be mixed up as you want / need. Just keep moving. Anywhere. Any how.
I am not a dietician or a nutritionist, and make no claims to the contrary. What is written on this site should not be taken as fact or advice. It is merely an opinion blog.