Karolyn A. Gazella

The Healing Factor

Get Out! Seriously, Get Outside to Enhance Your Health

Exercising outdoors improves mood

Posted Oct 03, 2011

The scientific literature is packed with studies that confirm the multitude of benefits we get from exercising. Everything from building strong bones to enhancing immunity and even improving your mood can be achieved just by being physically active. Let's face it, when it comes to health, exercise is the closest thing to a magic bullet that we have! Yet, the trick for many of us is finding ways to stick with it. Mother Nature provides a solution.

A 2011 literature review published by researchers from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom revealed that people who exercised in "outdoor natural environments" reported a greater intent to repeat the activity. The researchers also discovered that compared to exercising indoors, the outdoor exercisers said they felt more revitalized, positive, and energetic and felt less tension, depression, and anger. No wonder they wanted to repeat the behavior! A 2009 published study found that outdoor exercisers felt more restored and that the "restorative quality predicted the frequency of exercise..." The more restored the exercisers felt, the more frequently they exercised. 

Being physically active outdoors is now termed "green exercise." As it turns out, kids can also get a great deal of benefit from green exercise. A 2011 study showed that kids with Attention Deficit Disorder had fewer symptoms after they spent time being active outdoors. In 2008 The American Journal of Preventive Medicine published a report stating that the amount of "green space" in a child's neighborhood impacted Body Mass Index (BMI). If we want to decrease childhood obesity—which is increasing at an astounding rate—we need to encourage more green exercise. Another 2008 study showed that kids who spent more time outdoors had a 27 to 41 percent lower chance of being overweight than kids who spent most of their time indoors.

For some people, it's not always feasible to spend time exercising outdoors. Some preliminary research demonstrates that even encouraging nature in indoor environments may help. For example, one study showed that patients who had foliage (namely plants) in their hospital recovery room had significantly lower blood pressure, lower pain perception, reduced anxiety, stress and fatigue (http://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/article_content.asp?article=140). In a commentary in the Natural Medicine Journal, William Benda, MD, reflected on this study writing, "The true beauty of this study lies in its simplicity and elegance, reflective of nature itself."

But what about just looking at photos of nature while we exercise. Wouldn't that be great if that's all we had to do! A 2005 published study randomized adults on treadmills to view one of four pictures while working out:
1. A pleasant rural setting
2. A pleasant urban setting
3. An unpleasant rural setting
4. An unpleasant urban setting.

The researchers measured the participant's blood pressure, mood, and self-esteem. Not only did the picture of the pleasant rural setting reduce blood pressure, there was also a positive effect on the mood of the exercisers.

Fall is a favorite time of the year to get outdoors. However, in some regions it can also signal the upcoming tendency to "hibernate." This year, find ways to proactively prevent that black bear mentality. Find ways to get outside.

The benefits of getting outside cannot be overstated. And if you want to add even more power to your nature experience, exercise outdoors. Every cell in your body will thank you by rewarding you with a flood of health benefits including more energy and a better mood. You'll want to have that feeling over and over again and you'll be hooked. That Mother Nature is one smart cookie!