Live Fully: Playing Outside for Grownups
Working out outside has a 50% greater positive effect on mental health than just going to the gym. Fifty percent! Outdoor exercise is linked to stress reduction, a decrease in feelings of tension and anger, and fewer symptoms of depression. Is it more comfortable to hop on the elliptical and plug into your favorite daytime TV show? It can be, especially in winter. But aren’t we already connected to some device most of the day?
Step 1: Take a Walk
In a number of recent studies, volunteers were asked to go for two walks for the same time or distance — one inside on a treadmill or track, the other outdoors. In virtually all of the studies, not only did the volunteers report enjoying the outside activity more, but they also scored significantly higher on measures of self-esteem, vitality, and enthusiasm, and lower on depression, tension, and fatigue–just from walking outside.
Don’t get us wrong; go to the gym if that is what works for you, but consider supplementing your treadmill time with real, outdoor fun in the sun (and snow, and rain).
In addition to the positive psychological effects of spending time outside, there are some very real physical benefits.
Get Your Vitamin D
Many Americans are not getting sufficient vitamin D due to spending too much time indoors. Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin” has recently been proven to affect everything from cancer development to mental health. The more vitamin D you get through your skin from outside, the better your body is able to absorb it.
What You Can’t Get From a Treadmill
Outdoor exercise tends to be more strenuous than the indoor version. In studies comparing the exertion of running on a treadmill and the exertion of running outside, treadmill runners expended less energy to cover the same distance as those striding across the ground outside, primarily because indoor exercisers face no wind resistance or changes in terrain, no matter how subtle. You also stride differently when running outdoors. Studies find that people flex their ankles more when they run outside. They also run downhill, a movement that isn’t easily done on a treadmill and that stresses muscles differently than running on flat or uphill terrain.
What Happens When You Spend a Day (or Two!) Outdoors?
Let’s start with health benefits. Studies show that the absence of artificial light resets our body clocks back to a natural rhythm that is more in sync with the rising and setting of the sun. The effects of this? A better night’s rest. Along with that boost in Vitamin D, you’re also getting more physical exercise from hiking, biking, skiing, or camping, and less physical stress (think back pain from your office chair, eye strain from the computer screen, etc). Remember, physical exercise and physical stress are not the same thing!
Improving your mental health is perhaps one of the best reasons to turn off your device and get outdoors. Physically separating yourself from work and home allows time for mindfulness, quality meditation and peace of mind. You’ll leave with a feeling of accomplishment that has nothing to do with your lists and emails.
The feeling of being calm, appreciating the simple things in life and dismissing unnecessary complexities allows one to have a more positive perspective in life. Being outside grants you a rest from all of the emotional expenses of day to day life, and allows you the peace of mind to transfer that respite after you return.
Reset your mind. As reported in the journal Psychological Science, those who had been on a nature walk had significantly better focus and attention than those who had been required to negotiate the city streets. Interacting with nature requires a different form of attention, and that temporary switch-over allows us to replenish our abilities to concentrate. Getting into the woods and away from our to-do lists and devices actually equips us to cope better with the cognitive demands of daily life.
It’s FUN! What is stopping you from grabbing a group of friends and snagging a quick weekend away? Fill up the cooler, load up on the bug spray and get ready to enjoy some quality time with your favorite people away from work, school, home repairs, road work or any other loud things in your life.
Hiking, biking, skiing, climbing or a simple walk around the block – whatever your comfort level, get out there and be ready to build a little character.