It seems as if we are always full of good intention about exercise. Sadly though, once reality kicks in, and the thought of squeezing into some Lycra and watching yourself wobble all over the running machine becomes too much, we so often decide to ignore the expensive direct debits coming out of our banks accounts for the gym membership and opt for a cup of tea and chocolate biscuit on the sofa.
But there is a solution: a simple, free solution that almost everyone can use. It’s not a state secret, or even a mystical piece of knowledge that only personal trainers know of - it’s exercising in the great outdoors. It seems too easy, doesn’t it? But the benefits of exercising outdoors are well documented, and it’s not just your slightly over-indulged body that will thank you for it, your spirits will be raised and your bank balance won’t suffer either!
With the exception of during the daily commute, the majority of people spend most of the working day inside. And once that is combined with busy city living, it’s not surprising that we are becoming increasingly disconnected from the outside world and its benefits. When we think of our favorite holiday activities, sightseeing, walking and enjoying the world around us are always up there, and they make for a really enjoyable holiday, but we so rarely bring those good habits back home with us.
Here are the 3 top benefits of exercising outdoors:
Endorphin is a term that is loosely bandied about when the benefits of exercise are mentioned. Basically, endorphins are the body’s naturally occurring narcotics; they are in the group of chemicals called opiates, which includes morphine and heroin. Endorphins are released by the body in response to stimuli such as exercise (and, yes, we’ve all heard, sex), and create a feeling of euphoria.
Long distance runners often talk about “going through the pain barrier,” and it is endorphins that make this possible. They override the body’s natural reaction to stop when pain occurs. They are also responsible for that wonderful smug feeling of well being when you’ve sweated yourself silly at the gym. And what’s more, like their illegal counterparts, these opiates are also addictive. Many of us find the idea of exercise being addictive completely incomprehensible, but given time, your body will become hooked.
Endorphins are produced by any kind of exercise, whether inside or outside, but recent research has shed some light on why there are added benefits of exercising outside, rather than indoors. A study carried out by The University of Essex entitled, “Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors?” found conclusive evidence that we are far better off mentally and physically by exercising outside rather than behind the vast windows of the local gym or sweating it out at home in front of a DVD. The trial looked at over 800 individuals and asked them to rate their mental well being after exercising either outdoors or indoors, depending on which study group they were in. Those exercising in a natural environment reported feeling more revitalized, less tense and depressed and more energized than those exercising inside. The outside group also felt that they gained a greater degree of enjoyment from their exercise and greater motivation to continue with it.
Similar findings were concluded by the mental health charity MIND when they did a study into “the mental health benefits of green exercise activities.” In their study, two groups of people with known mental health issues participated in organized exercise sessions. One group exercised outside, whereas the other group walked the same distance, over the same length of time in a shopping mall. As with the previous study, the group that exercised outside reported feeling less depressed, anxious and isolated, and a greater feeling of well being and optimism.
In many ways, the findings seem quite simple. It makes sense that connecting with nature and escaping from the four walls that surround you all day would have a positive effect on your mood and mental state. However, in this modern age of hi-tech gym equipment and new and more fantastical exercise programs being developed at an alarming rate, it is easy to get caught up in the hype and feel the need to keep up with the latest trends.
The thing is, fads come and go, and so does our motivation to go to the gym. Sometimes the humiliation endured when you first start out in an exercise class or the horror of your bottom bulging off the exercise bike seat is enough to shock you into action, but many times it is a step too far, and all good intentions get sidelined.
Whether you live in a city or out in the countryside, there are always places to explore on foot or by bike, even if it is just walking around the local park several times a week. The sense of freedom from just being outside, with no set agenda, or need for ultra-revealing clothing is exhilarating. So get set to have your cobwebs blown away, your endorphins pumping and your Miranda Kerr body perfected in no time!
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