The role that nature plays in our lives can easily be overlooked in the bustle of the everyday; with most of us going through life in a blur. Yet even as we grow and move, it is important to remember just how good green spaces can be for us, both in our minds and our bodies. There is a continually growing pool of scientific evidence that shows how exercising outside can provide a myriad of benefits to your health.
Studies have found that spending time out in nature can be wonderful for our mental health. Green spaces have been shown to decrease stress levels and act as a mood booster, reducing pain and giving us a more positive outlook of the world around us.
This is brilliant news for us as individuals, but the benefits don't stop there. Research suggests that greener environments can lead to a lower crime rates and increase in our sense of community. If we treat our environment kindly, it makes us feel better too!
It's not just communal green spaces that can benefit us. Gardening has also been found to reduce stress levels and improve our mood. Even just having a plant in the room can be a great benefit to our mental health. One of the greatest benefits to nature is the versatility it provides for us.
Additionally, the more private spaces can be a great alternative if socializing in green spaces isn't right for you. If going to your local park seems like too much, then working out in your garden can be just as beneficial. Finding a quiet area to spend some time alone doesn't take away from the gifts of nature and may help to give you the confidence you need in your own time.
With all this time spent indoors, vitamin D deficiency is a big concern. Taking some time to exercise outdoors can help to combat this, since being out in the sun encourages our bodies to produce Vitamin D. Simply being out in the sun will give our immune systems a boost, making us feel better and decreasing the chances of illness. Vitamin D also plays a big part in our energy levels, and so improving this can do wonders for our sense of wellbeing.
Plants have also been found to improve the air quality around us, reducing the risk of illness and respiratory problems. Green spaces keep the air around us clean and make us feel soothed and safe.
This can be great for our bodies since stress and anxiety can also hinder the body's ability to heal. If taking time to exercise becomes a regular part of our routines, we can easily build a system to steadily help us improve day to day.
A study conducted by Gladwell et al (2013) found that people tend to walk faster when outside yet report feeling less tired afterwards, most likely because exercise feels like less effort when in a more natural setting. This suggests that exercising outside can be a great way to push yourself, helping us to go just that little bit further every time. Much of our journey is personal, and so finding a green space that feels right for you is essential.
One of the biggest influences that green spaces can have is the motivation it can provide us with.
By carving out time for ourselves we are more likely to commit to exercise in the future, which can be extremely beneficial to our self-improvement in the long term.
With this in mind, taking time to be active outside can always work as a stepping stone for what we want to achieve; if you can't find the motivation to go for a run, then perhaps a walk in the sun is enough. Patience with yourself will mean that you can still feel the benefits of nature even when the bigger steps feel like too much.
Are you struggling to commit to an exercise regime? Inviting a friend along may be the solution. It is often easier to commit to a plan when we include other people who can help to keep us motivated when we are finding it hard to do so ourselves. Turning exercise into a social activity can be a great way to see the people we love and keep up healthy habits all at once. This can also be a valuable method when trying to fit exercise into a busy schedule- the goals you have can be worked on in your own time, on your own terms.
It is very much in our nature to feel a connection to the world around us. The earth has provided us with the means to live since the beginning of civilization. Even in our distant past, communal parks and gardens in hospitals were considered essential to the growth of society and a useful tool for healing. As humans we have an innate connection to the world around us, and so reintroducing ourselves to the great outdoors is both natural to us and extremely beneficial.
- Focht BC. “Brief walks in outdoor and laboratory environments: effects on affective responses, enjoyment, and intentions to walk for exercise”. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2009 Sep;80(3):611-20. doi: 10.1080/02701367.2009.10599600. PMID: 19791648
- Gladwell VF, Brown DK, Wood C, Sandercock GR, Barton JL. “The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all”. Extrem Physiol Med. 2013;2(1):3. Published 2013 Jan 3. doi:10.1186/2046-7648-2-3.
- Netta Weinstein, Andrew Balmford, Cody R. DeHaan, Valerie Gladwell, Richard B. Bradbury, Tatsuya Amano, “Seeing Community for the Trees: The Links among Contact with Natural Environments, Community Cohesion, and Crime”, BioScience, Volume 65, Issue 12, 01 December 2015, Pages 1141–1153, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biv151
- Pegas, P., N., “Could Houseplants Improve Indoor Air Quality in Schools?” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A Pages 1371-1380 | Published online: 24 Oct 2012, https://doi.org/10.1080/15287394.2012.721169
- White, P., Matthew, “Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing”, Scientific Reports, Sci Rep 9, 7730 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3
- Thompson Coon J, Boddy K, Stein K, Whear R, Barton J, Depledge MH. “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”. Environ Sci Technol. 2011 Mar 1;45(5):1761-72. doi: 10.1021/es102947t. Epub 2011 Feb 3. PMID: 21291246.
- Van Den Berg AE, Custers MHG. “Gardening Promotes Neuroendocrine and Affective Restoration from Stress”. Journal of Health Psychology. 2011;16(1):3-11. doi:10.1177/1359105310365577
Shanahan, D., Bush, R., Gaston, K. et al. “Health Benefits from Nature Experiences Depend on Dose”. Sci Rep 6, 28551 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep28551