You know that *enlightening* feeling when you step outside onto the grass, breathe in the fresh air, and feel that sunshine on your skin? Well, all those feelings are not just in your head - they’re the result of the many beneficial chemical processes occurring within your body. The result is an extensive range of proven scientific and medical benefits - from significant improvements to your mood to better adherence to - and hence better results from - your exercise program. Today, we’re sharing why outdoor exercise can help you feel happier, stronger, healthier, more social - and even like your immune system has been supercharged - all thanks to choosing to exercise outdoors.
You’ll be happier
When we’re exercising out in the natural sunlight, it is thought that our brains are stimulated to release serotonin, a natural mood stabiliser that contributes to our happiness and wellbeing, among other things. As both exercise and sunlight have been shown to promote serotonin release, we consider this a powerful and beneficial combination, especially when a deficiency of serotonin has been linked to depression, anxiety, fatigue and impaired cognitive function.
Vitamin D is also produced locally in the skin from sun exposure - which has some impressive benefits. Higher levels of Vitamin D have been linked by a study to lower levels of depression and greater bone health and brain development. The same study also indicated that lower levels of Vitamin D were linked to seasonal affective disorder which is characterised by depression-like symptoms over the winter months.
You’ll be stronger
Depending on the type of exercise you do, it is likely that you’ll be using and strengthening different (and potentially more) muscle groups than if you were indoors. A good example is the uneven terrain of footpaths, hills, and dirt tracks that activates our stabilising muscles throughout our ankles, knees and core. This helps to increase the intensity of your workout, and may help avoid the very common joint pain and injuries that are often associated with the repetitive mechanical patterns found in gym equipment such as treadmills or stationary bikes.
You’ll have a better immune system
Unless you spend a large portion of your indoor workout on a treadmill, it is likely that you’ll spend more time walking, running or doing other forms of cardio when you’re outdoors. A study that tracked 1,000 adults during the flu season found that those who did moderate walking for between 30 and 45 minutes every day had significantly fewer sick days, by 43%, and less upper respiratory tract infection overall. If they did get sick, their symptoms were not as extreme as passed faster.
Those who incorporate outdoor exercise into their fitness regimen have been shown to have better adherence to their exercise program - and a tendency to exercise more frequently. As our immune system is very responsive to exercise with studies showing that regular exercise of moderate to vigorous intensity of less than 60 mins improves the function of a number of immune cells, over time this may helps to enhance both our immunity and metabolic health.
You’ll be healthier
We know that exercise is generally good for you - but it can also help with certain diseases and medical problems, too. When we exercise, even if it’s just going for a walk outdoors, our cardiovascular system is going, our joints, muscles and bones are activated, our energy stores are being used, and our blood is pumping around our body - bringing with it the oxygen and nutrients that our cells and tissues need. Getting out and about for at least 30 minutes a day has been shown to help with problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, the risk of stroke, diabetes, breast cancer and more.
When we talk about the outdoors specifically, having the opportunity to take in your surroundings - whether it's the colour or rustling of the leaves or the birdlife, also has a restorative effect, according to research being conducted in NSW. By focusing on things that are external to you, you have a chance to recover from any attention fatigue, otherwise known as hard focus - the focus it takes to complete mentally stimulating tasks, from writing emails to creating spreadsheets and more.
You’ll be more social
Outdoor exercise can also be more social than indoor exercise as you are not limited to set opening hours, gym class times or expensive membership restrictions. This means that you can organise hikes, bike rides and walks with your friends at flexible times that don’t give you the excuse to skip exercise because you ‘missed your class’.
When it comes to outdoor sports teams, this provides an opportunity to connect with more like-minded people and extend your social circle, which is great for all ages - for both building meaningful relationships in adulthood, and helping grow important social and emotional skills in childhood.
You may find your improved social habits extend far beyond when you’re in your workout gear - according to psychology research, when you can stick to your fitness schedule, you’re also more likely to be committed to plans - social activities - outside of the gym, too.
Getting into exercise can be hard...
But the benefits can be extensive - and to much more than just your physical health. If you want to incorporate more outdoor exercise into your routine but don’t have the right gear to start, check out this starter box. It has 11 products to support and motivate you to exercise, from any location at any time.
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