All too often the great outdoors is considered the playground for extreme sports and thrill seekers however; evidence is now beginning to uncover what most of us have known since we were children; there is no better place to exercise than nature's gym. Research has uncovered a range of benefits from exercising outdoors compared to the gym, and has even invented a new term; 'Green Exercise'! In general, we can divide these additional benefits into three broad categories: Physiological; Psychological; and Sociological.
From a physiological perspective exercising outdoors results in a greater calorie consumption associated with environmental factors (i.e. wind resistance, heat, cold, rain etc.); changes in surface (i.e. grass, mud, sand etc.); and terrain (i.e. hills). In addition to the increased calorie expenditure, outdoor exercisers tend to work harder and feel less fatigued compared to those that exercise indoors. In a nutshell, that means greater benefit for less effort which must be a winner.
A number of recent studies have demonstrated psychological benefits of 'Green Exercise' leading significantly greater improvements in mental well-being. Just by taking your session into the natural environment leads to higher energy levels and leaves you feeling more revitalised. In addition, the great outdoors is also associated with increased self-esteem and improvements in mood linked to decreased tension, confusion, anger and depression. Of note, psychological benefits appear to be gained very rapidly, within the first 5 minutes of starting exercise, so, even if you are short of time, you can benefit from a quick escape to the great outdoors.
Importantly, outdoor exercisers report greater enjoyment and satisfaction. One of the key reasons for this outdoor fun factor is the changing environment meaning that no two sessions are the same. From changing your route to changing your exercising buddy, or the changing seasons, there are so many ways to create a new exercise experience. Using the surroundings adds variety to you work out. In addition to the growing number of outdoor gyms springing up in parks all over the country, you can use the environment i.e. fallen trees and branches, park benches and hills, to create new and innovative workouts. As well as providing whole body conditioning, mastering new exercises provides and fantastic motivational tool to ensure you exercise harder, longer and more often.
The outdoors also brings greater opportunity for socialising; rather than running in isolation on a treadmill you can run along and chat with as many friends as your breathing rate will allow! In addition to the social aspects of 'Green Exercise' the enhanced entertainment and escapism created by outdoor spaces provides an all-important boost to motivation which may be the difference between active and inactive. Importantly, outdoor exercisers are much more likely to repeat the activity in the future.
Overall, 'Green Exercise' may be the answer to the inactivity epidemic rampaging across society by simply reducing the effort required to exercise, increasing enjoyment, enhancing self-esteem, improving mood, and reducing stress. To that end, perhaps we should all be painting our gym green!
Greg Whyte is a brand ambassador at Merrell.