The definition of loathe is “to feel intense dislike or disgust for”. Based on this, I think it’s safe to say that I loathe running on a treadmill. Have I done it in the past? Yes. Do I still do it now? Occasionally. However, I try to avoid it as much as possible. For me, running on a treadmill is like going to the DMV–it’s miserable, but sometimes you have to do it.
The good news is, there is a solution that keeps me away from treadmills. Running outside (weather permitting). In fact, I would argue that all forms of exercise are best done outside. Kayaking is way more fun than a rowing machine, hiking offers much better views than the squat rack at my gym, and I’ll burn far more calories snowshoeing through Rocky Mountain National Park than I would if I chained myself to an elliptical machine. Plus, there are a variety of are other evidence-based benefits of exercising in the great outdoors.
Vitamin D Boost: Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies synthesize it from the sun’s ultraviolet rays (how cool is that). Although too much sun (think Florida retiree) is a risk factor for skin cancer, many scientists argue that our lack of exposure (because we don’t go outside enough), and subsequent low vitamin D levels, may be contributing to a growing list of health issues. Low vitamin D levels have been associated with osteoporosis, heart disease, some cancers, and multiple sclerosis. Adults need about 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day and we can store any excess for those rainy days and winter months. During summer months, however, people with a lighter skin complexion can synthesize 10,000-25,000 IU after just 15-20 minutes of sun-to-skin exposure (without sunscreen). People with a darker complexion will need to stay in the sunlight a little longer. Regardless of your complexion, going outside on a sunny day for a 30-minute bike ride or jog can provide a major vitamin D boost, improving your overall health.
Clear Mind: I’m a sucker for inspirational nature quotes. You know, the ones you might find on a bumper sticker of a Subaru Outback, or on that little piece of paper attached to your tea bag. Things like: “nature, cheaper than therapy”, or “nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Throw in a John Muir quote or a Chinese proverb and I’m sold! Although often cast off as hippie rubbish, spending time in nature, even just looking at pictures of nature, has been shown to lower stress levels and improve our mood. Exercising in nature is no exception. As I discussed in my post, 4 Science-Based Ways To Reduce Stress, exercising in nature, compared to a gym or an urban environment, is associated with reduced stress, tension, confusion, anger, and depression, while increasing feelings of revitalization and positivity. It also results in people reporting more energy and a better outlook on life (1-3). It’s unclear exactly why this is. Fresh air, a sense of connection to nature, or the actual sight of plants may play a role. It could also be due to a lack of distracting stimuli. In nature, there are no flashing billboards, no noisy traffic, and no pedestrians bumping into you because they’re on their phone. Reducing distracting stimuli can help calm the mind. If fact, spending time in nature can reduce symptoms in those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (4). All of this reminds me of an inspirational nature quote (see, I told you I love them), “nature has no Wi-Fi, but you’ll find a better connection.”
You’ll Go Back for More: Many people find sticking to a regular exercise program difficult. This is likely because exercising in a gym isn’t very exciting or entertaining (flashback to running on a treadmill). Exercising in nature can be a great way to overcome this gym-induced boredom. Studies have found that when people exercise in nature, they report greater enjoyment and satisfaction and are more likely to repeat the activity in the future (2). Consider activities that are physically demanding and fun! Skiing, snowshoeing, trail running, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, surfing, or swimming are all great options. Go play basketball or volleyball at a park. Take your yoga mat to a nature preserve. Do some tai chi in a garden. Anything that puts you in a natural setting and gets your body moving counts.
John Muir once said (here I go again) “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks”. If you exercise more in nature, you will receive more vitamin D, more piece of mind, and be more likely to do it again. John Muir also said (last one, I promise) “The mountains are calling and I must go.” I couldn’t agree more.
- Physical Activity: Does Environment Make a Difference for Tension, Stress, Emotional Outlook, and Perceptions of Health Status?
- 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.
- Green exercise as a workplace intervention to reduce job stress. Results from a pilot study.
- A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study