The lean, muscular bodies depicted on magazine covers are developed in the gym…or are they? Statistics show that the number of gym memberships in the U.S. has nearly doubled since 2000, coinciding with a similar increase in obesity levels. Surveys suggest that nearly 7 out of 10 people with gym memberships never even use them and even fewer regular attendees are reaching their goals. Contemporary research is showing that the first step to that better body may be spending less time in the gym and taking your workout outside.
Vitamin D and a tan from the sun are far from the only benefits of being outdoors. A recent review found that so-called “green exercise”—physical activity outside—may have significant advantages over the conventional indoor workout. Researchers found that exercising under the sun may increase performance, as participants tend to report lower rates of perceived exertion at identical levels of intensity. When self-selecting speed levels, people walking outdoors tend to walk faster than they do indoors. Those working out in nature push themselves harder, acutely burning more calories and fostering more effective long-term physiological adaptation. Furthermore, there is evidence that people with outdoor-focused exercise programs are more motivated and more likely to stick to their programs. If you are having a difficult time staying motivated, skip the treadmill and hit the trail.
Exposure to nature can be relaxing and have stress-reducing properties by influencing physiological parameters of blood pressure, heart rate, and endocrine markers. Workout participants show returns to baseline blood pressure values more quickly when training in a natural setting. Similarly, those whose physical activity takes place in nature exhibit decreased secretions of the fight or flight hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which research is beginning to link to increased fat storage, cravings for unhealthy food, and abnormal thyroid function. Performing intense physical activity outdoors can positively influence recovery and markers of physiological progression in ways that a session at the gym can’t.
The benefits may be more than just physical. Exercising outdoors has been shown to improve self-esteem and decrease tension, anger, and depression, both acutely and chronically. It is believed that the mechanism behind this phenomena is that attention to an external pleasant and green environment reduces awareness of physiologic sensations and negative emotions. This also may further explain why green exercising results in increased chances that one may stick to a program.
Everybody wants to know how to stay motivated and make their training sessions as efficient as possible; the secret may be opening your front door. Take advantage of the spring and summer sun by bringing your workout to the neighborhood jungle gym or trail, and take your health to the next level.