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Green Exercise

Note to Self: It’s Easy Being Green- With “Green Exercise”

Most of us are paying a lot more attention to environmentally respectful living by recycling in our homes, reusing or repurposing items and trying to conserve our natural resources. Yet, we drive to an indoor gym to get our exercise by walking on a moving track called a treadmill and measure our progress on a sleek touch screen.
As the flowers begin to bloom, and our thoughts turn a world that’s busting out green all over, it’s time to step outside and enjoy a workout in the fresh air. Let’s call it Green Exercise. Spring is a perfect time to escape from the gym so you never have to sit on a sweaty machine again. Exercising outdoors is challenging, saves time, and studies are finding that it can actually make you feel better.

In 2011 a study published by the by the American Chemical Society suggested that exercising outdoors may lead to greater mental and emotional benefits than indoor exercise. After examining 11 studies with 833 participating adults, the authors concluded that when compared to indoor exercise, outdoor exercise led to:
  • Greater improvement in mental well-being
  • Greater feelings of revitalization
  • Increased energy and positive engagement
  • Greater decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression

Those who exercised outside also stated that when compared to working out indoors, they found greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and were more likely to continue with their outdoor workouts.
When you walk or run outside, your muscles provide the movement. Walking outside increases the intensity of your session, and offers an unstable platform (think sand or a trail) which requires you to balance- much harder than plodding along on a machine that’s doing some of the work for you.

Outdoor physical activity requires attention to where you are and what’s around you. You simply cannot read a book (a pet peeve of mine) while exercising outdoors, you might walk into a tree! The fancy word for keeping track of where your limbs are is proprioception. It is the basis of things like "hand-eye coordination." It is not a reflex but a skill we can develop over time; we also can lose it if we don’t use it.

Activities we do outside require this level of attention to where we are in a space, and it’s a good thing.

"Go outside, it’s good for you," my mother used to say to me and my sister; did your mom say the same thing? OK, maybe she just wanted to get us from underfoot, but being outside has a number of health benefits. Our bodies need Vitamin D, which comes from the sun. We don't produce it naturally. Twenty minutes outside is enough exposure for an average adult and if we are deficient, we can feel depressed. Vitamin D deficiency is a major component in seasonal depression.

So, while all those engineers are working diligently to invent the next fitness machine, save yourself the trouble. Lace up your sneakers and enjoy green exercise!
Article reprinted with permission from Linda T. Gottlieb, MA, CPT, CCET