The temperatures where I live just fell below the 100-degree mark (and that’s not even counting the humidity). Needless to say, I really didn’t want to leave the comfortable confines of my air-conditioned home. But now that being outside is a bit more bearable, exercising outside is sounding better and better. Plus, it turns out that the research shows that being out in nature is actually good for you!
A recent newspaper article in my local newspaper by Dr. Kay Judge and Dr. Maxine Barish-Wreden compiled some of the research that will make you want to pull on your sneakers and step out the door. Here are some of the findings:
- Being out in nature can improve your brainpower. A study of 96 children who had been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) found that subjects who played in a greener area (such as playgrounds as opposed to asphalt) had better concentration and brain acuity. I’ve noticed that my teenage neighbor is often outside practicing his soccer or practicing his field-goal kicking (since he just made his junior high football team). I’ve noticed that these activities leave him more focused when we visit.
- Stress, depression and anxiety can be reduced through green environments. A Swedish study found that people who visited green areas more often reported fewer stress-related sicknesses. The writers also noted that researchers have found exercising in a natural setting reduces anxiety and depression in adults. I haven’t tried it yet, but I always have thought that people doing tai chi outside seem to be both relaxing and revitalizing. And I’ve always loved those videos where people are practicing yoga by the ocean. Come to think of it, I can do both of these activities (albeit without the ocean) in my backyard.
- Being outside in nature improves the body’s immune system. The writers noted, “A 2007 study in Japan showed that a three-day exposure to nature increased the body’s natural ‘killer cells’ by 50 percent. A 2008 study showed that enhanced activity of white blood cells lasted more than a week after exposure to nature.” I like to take the dogs for a long walk as a way to get outside and spend time with the canine members of my family. And a friend is trying to organize a future vacation that will involve kayaking. To do that would require that I spend some time learning how to kayak (which I’ve never done before) and in the pool improving my swimming (which I’m not that good at).
- Being out in nature lowers blood pressure. Another Japanese study found that subjects who walked through a forest or wooded area for a couple of hours had lower cortisol levels, pulse rates and blood pressure. You can also head out to a local park or greenbelt to hike or to do off-road biking. I also found that walking around in a nature area looking for geocaches can also keep you mentally stimulated in a gorgeous setting. You can learn more about geocaching at this site.
- Being in natural environments can help you feel healthier. A study in the Netherlands indicated that the percentage of green space in a living environment has a positive association with the subjects’ perceived health, especially in the elderly, housewives, and lower socioeconomic groups. Fortunately my house is built around a courtyard, so my dad can enjoy nature on a daily basis. But I also want to encourage him to go to some local parks that have a lot of benches located around the sidewalk so he can exercise and get the benefits of being outdoors.
All of this research is a good reminder not only to exercise, but to get into the great outdoors. Being outside is not only great for your physical health, but also for your mental health and attitude.