Exercising in Nature Doubles the Benefits
by Moving For Life Blog on August 20th, 2012

I've been a personal trainer and group exercise instructor for almost a decade.  And the decade before that, I was the typical "gym rat"--taking aerobics classes and working out with weights almost everyday. Today, when I'm not dancing, I'm all about moving outdoors in nature, and taking my clients with me. I’d rather notice the seasons changing and feel connected to my environment—even in the winter, even if it’s only for an hour—than be shut up in the noise and artificial air and light of most health clubs.

Biophilia-Love of Nature
Apparently I’m not alone. Evolutionary psychologists tell us that all humans are subconsciously drawn to nature because of our biology. This love of life and living systems has been dubbed “biophilia” and in 1984, American biologist Edward O. Wilson published a book about it. Although science has not yet fully explained this connection, it is apparently very deep and cutrs across cultures.

So, now you see why we prefer natural surroundings for vacation spots and why we pay premium prices for homes, hotels, and restaurants with a view. On a practical level, evidence has been piling up for decades that merely being in natural areas such as forests, parks, gardens and beaches restores our bodies and minds. Nature can even help us recover faster from illness and surgery. For example, people whose hospital rooms had windows offering a view of trees and grass recovered better and faster than those in rooms with a view of only buildings or a brick wall. Nature scenes or sounds have helped people control pain, de-stress, and escape. Compared with a walk on city streets, walking in parks improved scores on memory tests. What’s so astounding is that it took very little nature to show this difference—even small parks in urban areas, a potted plant or images of natural scenes had a soothing, health-inducing effect.

This potential for better mental health and ability crosses all ages. Richard Louv, in his book “Last Child in the Woods” coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe what happens to kids who spend too little time in nature; studies have linked nature with improvements in attention-deficit disorder and outdoor play with academic improvement. In "The Nature Prescription," his book for adults, he refers to a mind/body/nature connection (“vitamin N”) that enhances physical and mental health. Another recent book, "Your Brain on Nature" provides all we know as about the beneficial effects of nature specifically on cognition, stress, and mood.

Green Exercise
Imagine what might happen if you combine physical activity with being outdoors! Well, researchers are doing just that. A team of American, Canadian, and German researchers found that compared with exercising indoors, “exercising in natural environments is associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression, and increased energy.”  They found that exercising outdoors gives us a positive outlook and more vitality—which helps us cope better with all sorts of stressors, including viruses! A study from England suggests that as little as five minutes of exercising in nature is enough to improve self-esteem and other indicators of positive mental health. Is it any wonder that more and more scientists propose that exposure to nature is just as important for our health as exercise and healthy eating?

All natural areas, including urban parks, are considered to be beneficial and green areas, and those with pools, streams, lakes, ponds, rivers or ocean water are even more effective. In fact, we like nature so much that it seems we’re more likely to show up for exercise when it’s available outdoors, and we’re more likely to return for more. A series of studies recently found that people expect that being outdoors will be more revitalizing than being indoors.

So, whether you’re frazzled by life and need some soothing and calming, or whether your tapped out and need some mental and physical revitalizing, nature rocks! For people experiencing cancer and its treatment--and for those taking care of them--getting your “nature fix” while you get your “fitness” fix is the best kind of multi-tasking.

Note: Check with your health care provider for any caveats to being in nature; for example, you might be taking medication that makes you more sensitive to the sun. And, if you don't feel quite up to venturing out-of-doors, you can create a resonable facsimle by surrounding yourself with plants and other natural objects in your home or office.

Nancy Bruning is a personal trainer and group fitness leader, author of 26 books on health and fitness, with a master’s degree in public health. She has discovered the double benefits of exercising while outdoors and created Nancercize to help others get double benefits too. Her most recent book is "Nancercize: 101 Things to Do on a Park Bench." To see a free video of outdoor exercises and find out more, visit www.Nancercize.net and www.facebook.com/nancercize.

Posted in not categorized    Tagged with nature, outdoor exercise, biophilia, surviving cancer


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