Staying physically fit doesn’t have to mean spending hours in the gym. In a previous The Healthy Suggestions post, we pointed out that even doing a variety of household chores can help improve your fitness. However, another fantastic alternative is to head outdoors and exercise al fresco. In fact, plenty of scientific evidence points to how nature can be really good for your health and fitness journey.
It Provides Stronger Workouts
Studies have found that people exert more effort when exercising outdoors compared to working out in a gym. This is because we encounter a constantly changing and less structured environment when we are outside. In response, the body exerts more energy to adapt to the surroundings, like inclines, bumps, and obstacles — none of which happens on a treadmill. So if your goal is to reduce weight or be more physically fit, outdoor exercises will do more for you than just breaking a sweat.
It Improves Happiness
The sight of greenery can have a significant impact on your mood. According to research detailed on Tree Hugger, the simple act of noticing nature has an effect on personal well-being. The study found that a subject group were much more happier when tasked to experience nature first hand than those who were asked to ‘human-built objects’. If acknowledging nature can already change your mood, what other benefits could it provide when you exercise while surrounding yourself with the outside world?
It Strengthens Your Immune System
There is a decades-old Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing.” This involves going for a walk in the forest and immersing yourself in its surroundings. While the activity is often done for the benefit of de-stressing, researchers have also found that regular forest bathing can actually improve your immune system.
Trees shower themselves in an antifungal, antibacterial compound called phytoncides. When inhaled by humans, these compounds can produce a specialized white blood cell that can deal with tumorous growths in the body. Hence, exercising outdoors can not only help you shed weight and build muscle; it will also boost your immune system and keep you from getting sick.
It Reduces Blood Pressure
As mentioned above, many people go outdoors in order to reduce stress. A Japanese study published on Environmental Health Preventive Medicine notes that a walk in the forest doesn’t only decrease stress hormones by 15%, but it also serves other key benefits — such as lowering the average pulse by almost 4% and blood pressure by 2%.
Stress and blood pressure are directly linked, since stress hormones cause the heart to beat faster and the blood vessels to narrow. The situation is worsened when you experience chronic stress. The outdoors can therefore provide therapy for those seeking to lower their stress levels while reaping the other benefits that exercise in general provides.
It Encourages Social Interactions
When empirical studies revealed that people tend to enjoy outdoor workouts more, psychologists suggested that the reason could be linked to the fact that the participants often exercised with others.
Social health forms part of a person’s wellbeing, and regardless of whether you are introverted or extroverted, social interactions can help reduce stress and increase happiness. There are plenty of group workouts to enjoy outdoors, including yoga sessions at the park, hiking with friends, and cycling the countryside with a partner.
Making the Most Out of Your Outdoor Workouts
Given all these reasons to head outdoors, it’s important to note that there are some considerations to be made that you wouldn’t normally worry about at the gym.
For one, there are no drinking fountains or vending machines in most outdoor venues, so it’s important to bring your own water bottle that you can easily carry around with you. Opt for a soft flask that can carry the water you need without being too heavy or bulky.
Another consideration is the weather. It’s best to come prepared for any weather conditions, and bringing gear that’s suitable for the day. This can help you avoid risking any heat-related illnesses in the summer or freezing outdoors on colder days. Water can definitely help with the former, as is checking forecasts like the National Weather Service, which provides a handy guide on which temperatures can be dangerous for outdoor activity.
Meanwhile, cold weather will require you to dress in more layers and cover extremities like your head, hands, feet and ears in more frigid conditions. When it comes to outerwear, the lighter, the better. In this regard, Woman Within’s packable puffer jacket is lightweight and helps to insulate the body. It can be worn on its own on mildly cold days or layered underneath thicker clothing on extremely cold days out. On more unpredictable days, it can be folded up and stored in a bag, so you can put it on in case of a sudden chill.
Inspired to take your workout outdoors? Go and start plotting your preferred routes and spots for your exercise routines today.