Here’s a staggering statistic: Average Americans spends 90 percent of their time indoors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Most of that time is spent sitting at work in front of a computer or sitting on the couch at home watching television. And it’s making us sick. The reason: The air inside our homes is often filled with allergens and other contaminants and it zaps away our energy and, sometimes, our health.
The Health Benefits of Exercising Outside
Any workout is a good workout, no matter if you’re pushing iron in the weight room, running on the treadmill or walking outdoors. However, there are scientifically proven benefits of outdoor exercise that help both our physical and mental health.
There are scientifically proven benefits to being outdoors that help both our physical and mental health.
It Can Counteract Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder — or SAD — is a type of depression that often occurs in the late fall and winter when it gets darker earlier and the temperatures drop outside. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why it happens, but believe it has something to do with a lack of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is the only key nutrient that acts like a hormone and it’s believed that a lack of it can affect serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Our bodies can’t make vitamin D, so we rely on food and sunlight to produce it for us. When we can’t be outside, the body can’t make as much vitamin D — and that deficiency can affect mood.
Even exposing your skin to as little as 10 minutes of direct sunlight a day is shown to produce enough vitamin D for your daily needs — not too much of a commitment out of your day.
You’ll Breathe in Better Air
While it’s true that you’ll encounter allergens and pollution indoors, it’s also true that you are subjected to it indoors in often two- to five-times higher. Getting a “breath of fresh air” — ideally in a park or other green space — can give your lungs a break.
You’ll Be More Creative
Experiencing a bit of writer’s block, or can’t seem to figure out that big problem at work? Get outdoors and take a walk. Researchers at Stanford University found that a person’s creative output increased an average of 60 percent when they walked outdoors.
For the study, researchers asked participants to engage in a series of “divergent thinking” tests that required outside-the-box thinking. The result: 100 percent of the participants who walked outside contributed at least one high-quality response, compared to 50 percent of those who did their creative thinking while seated inside.
It Helps Ease Anxiety
Research shows that the benefits of outdoor exercise include easing anxiety and making you feel better about your personal well-being.
How to Take Your Workout Outdoors
With all the time we spend indoors, it seems silly to head to another indoor place — the gym — to mindlessly run on a treadmill. It’s time to ditch the gym, lace up your shoes and head outside.
And outdoor workouts don’t just mean running or walking. There are multiple ways to get in a good sweat sesh.
- Join an Outdoor Yoga Group. Practicing your Ustrasana or Ardha Chandrasana outdoors is as simple as bringing your yoga mat to your backyard or patio. Doing your favorite yoga flow outdoors is especially peaceful in the early morning when the birds are chirping, but the world is still sleeping. If you’re more of a group person, look for local yoga groups that offer classes in your community in parks and other public spaces. You can also find opportunities with Meetup groups in your area.
- Use technology to find a new running route. It’s often easy to just go through the motions when you’re running outdoors because you take the same routes all the time. Switch up your scenery by finding new running paths online through TrailLink, or on smartphone apps like Runkeeper. Trying a new way challenges your mind in new ways and is envirograting.
- Do a resistance workout on the playground. This is one way to get the whole family involved with your workout — or, you can just go it alone. Playground workouts can challenge you every bit as much as a normal free weights workout in the gym — and it gets you outside! The whole idea is to use the benches, jungle gyms and swing sets as your workout equipment. This workout can give you a few ideas of what to try on the playground — the swing rows are a burner!
- A simple walk is enough. Not every workout you do outdoors needs to be strenuous. A simple walk with your dog is enough to give you the physical benefits of being outside along with a huge mental boost, too.
- Use the seasons to your advantage. Winter might not seem like a good time to experience the benefits of outdoor exercise, but you can. The next time it snows, get your whole family to enjoy the benefits of outdoor exercise and have a snowball fight, or build a snowman — you’ll absolutely work muscles you didn’t know you had! Shoveling snow can also be a hearty workout, but make sure you don’t overdo it because it can be dangerous, especially if you’re not in good physical shape.