Green exercise-the hidden power of your local park

Thursday, November 30, 2017. Author Geraldine Campbell

Green exercise-the hidden power of your local park

No, this isn’t some form of super-environmentally-friendly exercise...it’s more elemental. Green Exercise is simply being physically active in the presence of nature.  I've chosen my words carefully here, so please read on!

Being immersed in nature has profound benefits for your health. It can improve your psychological well-being and self-esteem, boost immunity, enhance productivity, increase concentration and problem solving, and reduce irritability and stress [1] .

These benefits are similar to those induced by physical activity - leading to the idea that there may be a synergistic effect of combining physical activity with exposure to nature. This theory  has now been supported by many studies [2, 3].

The Three Stages of Engagement with Nature

If I said you could experience greater mood-boosting effects simply by exercising in front of an image of the beautiful countryside, would you believe me?

Science says you should. A study by Pretty and colleagues found that those who ran on a treadmill while exposed to a pleasant rural image had, in addition to lower blood pressure, significantly improved self-esteem and mood compared to those running without the image [4]. Viewing nature has also been shown to improve job satisfaction and reduce stress, as shown through studies looking at workers who had access to windows with views of trees and flowers [5].

If merely looking at a picture of a tree doesn’t sound like ‘green exercise’ to you, worry not - passively looking at nature is only the first stage of engagement.

The second stage is being in the presence of nature. Comparisons of indoor and outdoor exercise have highlighted the added benefits of this second stage of engagement. People who exercise outdoors, immersed in nature, feel more revitalized, have increased energy levels; and reduced levels of tension, confusion, and anger compared to those exercising indoors [2].

You may laugh at those people using the outdoor gym equipment in the park, but they’ll be the ones more likely to be laughing and enjoying life than those slaving away indoors in the sweaty pits of the gyms.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should never exercise indoors. Unfortunately, climates, availability of equipment, safety concerns and our individual lifestyles all dictate whether we can get outdoors.  Our motivation is also a major factor - not all of us are hardcore enough to embrace wind, rain and cold; and many probably won’t come back from an inclement session feeling revitalized!

The final stage of engagement is actively engaging with nature. This stage of green exercise uses initiatives that also help care for the environment, e.g., through voluntary work on preserving nature spots. This provides a double dose of mood enhancement - through being surrounded by nature and from the positive feeling of giving up your time for a worthy cause. But you don’t necessarily require formally-organized green initiatives to engage with nature: you can simply undertake activities such as gardening, where you use the natural environment to help burn off some calories and reduce stress! So, get planting those trees and flowers!

It may only take five minutes…

It probably takes less time than you think to reap the benefits of green exercise for your mood and well-being. The optimum improvement in mood occurs after just 5 minutes of exposure to nature, with no further increase after this point [6]. With such a quick, cheap, and easy way to enhance your mood and increase your happiness, why wouldn't you add a small walk outdoors every day? 

So, when you are having a bit of a down day at work or just need a quick way to de-stress from the chaos of family life (particularly around this holiday season!), get yourself outdoors. Boost your mood and self-esteem, and enhance the benefits of your exercise even further!

Exercising isn’t just about improving your physical health; your mental well-being is just as important - so utilize the natural environment around you and take your activity outside.

New to exercise? Why not give our Get Fit plan a try.  It has home-based workouts, so no gym membership is required, and you can perform all of the bodyweight exercises outdoors, so no excuses, please!

If you enjoyed this blog, please read my other posts:

Running Economy

What is hypertrophy?

What's the difference between fast and slow twitch muscle fibers?

Using fat for fuel

Food Cravings

Your lunch break is not just for eating. Upgrade it to a runch!

Resistance Band Training

Get to know your heart

How Alcohol May Be Limiting Your Progress

Running and Genetics

Mindfulness

Genetic Dominance of East African and Jamaican Runners

Sprint and Power Performance

The Nordic Diet

Seaweed

Oxidative Stress

References
1. Maller, C., Townsend, M., St Leger, L., Henderson-Wilson, C., Pryor, A., Prosser, L. and Moore, M., 2009, January. Healthy parks, healthy people: The health benefits of contact with nature in a park context. In The George Wright Forum (Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 51-83). George Wright Society.
2. Thompson Coon, J., Boddy, K., Stein, K., Whear, R., Barton, J. and Depledge, M.H., 2011. Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environmental science & technology, 45(5), pp.1761-1772.
3.Mitchell, R., 2013. Is physical activity in natural environments better for mental health than physical activity in other environments?. Social Science & Medicine, 91, pp.130-134.
4. Pretty, J., Peacock, J., Sellens, M. and Griffin, M., 2005. The mental and physical health outcomes of green exercise. International journal of environmental health research, 15(5), pp.319-337.
5 .Kaplan, R. and Kaplan, S., 1989. The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. CUP Archive.
6. Barton, J. and Pretty, J., 2010. What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental science & technology, 44(10), pp.3947-3955.

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