Each New Year, new gym memberships soar as people make resolutions about getting fitter and healthier. A few weeks later, as the novelty wears thin, many people have stopped visiting the gym and are left feeling disillusioned and at a loss. If this rings true for you, why not make March the month when you swap Gym Bunny for Nature Nymph. Getting your exercise outdoors is not only cheaper, it also comes with a wide range of surprising benefits…
There is no doubt that exercise is good for us all. Increasing physical activity helps us to maintain a healthy weight and triggers the release of endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, all of which have beneficial effects. Walking is a particularly useful form of exercise. One example of this can be found in our levels of serotonin, the chemical which can lift our mood and increase levels of satisfaction. Low to moderate intensity types of exercise (like walking that relies more on endurance than power), tend to elevate serotonin levels to a greater extent than high intensity types.
There is growing evidence that where you undertake your walking can make a real difference too. Natural settings such as woodlands, parks and open countryside win out over indoor treadmills when it comes to maximising the benefits of your walks. Discover Six Reasons to Move Your Exercise Outdoors:
Reason #1 – Combatting Stress
Enter your text here …A study out of Japan published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology in March of 2007 showed some very interesting metabolic effects of walking, especially when done in a natural environment. The subjects took part in daily walks in the woods or in the city and were tested for several physical measures, including cortisol levels (a key indicator of stress). The study results showed a significant lowering of cortisol levels (stress levels) from walking in the woods versus walking in the city, despite the length of exercise being the same.
Other studies suggest that simply being in a natural setting (whether you are exercising or not) can help to combat stress. Simply having views of trees, plants and shrubs at work can increase employee wellbeing, and having the same views from a hospital window can decrease recovery time. So, combining nature and exercise is a great way to alleviate stress.
Reason #2 – Improving Mental Health
There are numerous studies that recommend physical activity, including walking, as a way of improving mental health. Brain chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine and serotonin all have beneficial effects including producing feelings of well-being, improving sleep patterns and lifting mood.
The study in Japan demonstrated that these benefits can be maximised by undertaking your exercise in a natural environment. The study found that subjective feelings of relaxation, comfort, and calm were enhanced in the woodland walkers vs. the city walkers. While walking anywhere can act to balance the nervous system and make us feel more relaxed, walking in a nature setting like the woods seems to have an even greater impact. Check here for some organisations that may be able to help further – mindfulness
Reason #3 – Connecting with Nature
Learning something about your natural surroundings is the perfect way to build a stronger connection with nature and to tackle the modern problem of nature deficit disorder. Nature deficit disorder is the idea that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors and becoming alienated from the natural world. This poses a problem not just for the humans concerned but also for wildlife and its conservation. If people don’t see nature and can’t name plants and animals, then they are less likely to feel any connection or love for them. And if people don’t love nature, they also won’t have a passion to protect and conserve it.
Do your bit by exercising outdoors and re-connecting with nature. What will you learn this year? Perhaps you will learn to identify the song of a blackbird, the paw prints of a badger or the smell of wild garlic…
Reason #4 – Increasing Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, helping to maintain healthy bones, teeth and muscles. Vitamin D is the most common vitamin deficiency worldwide and the NHS estimates that one in five people have low Vitamin D levels in the UK.
Our main source of Vitamin D is from being outdoors and having direct sunlight on the skin. It is all too easy to spend the majority of our lives indoors; at work, at home and in the gym. By moving your exercise routines outdoors, you will be helping to give a natural boost your levels of Vitamin D.
Reason #5 – Making Life Interesting
Variety is the spice of life. Variety keeps life interesting. If you exercise in the same confined space of a gym every day, then you may be challenging your body but not your brain. Exercising outdoors is like having your own personal theatre at hand for every session. Every day you will have chance to encounter different wildlife, while the seasons will create an ever-changing spectacle. There’s no need for boredom to set in when nature is your training partner.
Reason #6 – Reducing Costs
As if Reasons 1-5 weren’t enough, to top it all exercising outdoors is a much cheaper alternative to gym membership. Access to many parks, beaches and woodlands is completely free of charge and you will also find many countryside car parks that don’t charge for parking.
So all that remains is for you to pick out your next countryside walking adventure. There’s plenty of choice on AllTrails . Or you could join a walking group or look at some walking holidays in the UK