Spring is the perfect time to get active outside after being cooped up inside all winter long. Exercising outside also has added benefits for you and your body.
Here are six research-backed perks of exercising outdoors:
1. You work harder
When people exercise outside, they tend to spend more time doing it. One study found that older people who were active outdoors did at least 30 minutes more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week than those who only did it inside. Exercising outdoors also made these individuals feel better. “Nothing makes you feel more childlike than being outdoors,” said Dr. Pamela Peeke, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and author of Fit to Live. Dr. Peeke also said, “You’re modulating stress hormones, increasing endorphins and increasing the secretion of serotonin,” which means that your mood brightens.
2. Being in nature lowers blood pressure
Spending time outside is also good for the heart. Another recent study estimated that nearly 10% of people with high blood pressure could get their levels under control if they spent at least 30 minutes in a park every week. This is due to the heart-related benefits of getting fresh air and lowering stress. In Japan, public health experts recommend people spend time walking outdoors, which is known as forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. Researchers in Japan have linked forest bathing with lower levels of cortisol, the blood pressure-raising stress hormone.
3. It spurs cancer-fighting cells
Some research suggests people inhale aromatic compounds from plants (phytoncides) when they are in nature. These can increase their number of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that supports the immune system and is linked with a lower risk of cancer. These cells are also believed to be important in fighting infections and inflammation, which is a common marker of disease.
In one study, researchers found that people who took a long walk through a forest for two days in a row increased their natural killer cells by 50% and the activity of these cells by 56%. Those activity levels also remained 23% higher than usual for the month following the walks.
4. It can feel more fun
Studies suggest that individuals exercising outside feel better and enjoy it more.“Enjoyment is an important pathway to the mental health impacts of physical activity,” said Rebecca Lovell, a research fellow at the University of Exeter in the UK. Exercising outside is also a great alternative for those individuals who don’t want to go to the gym.
A review of research found that people who exercised outside reported feeling more revitalized, engaged, and energized than those who did it indoors. The researchers also found that people who exercised outside felt less tension, anger, and depression.
5. Your mental health may improve
Nature has a way of making people feel calm, and exercising outside can strengthen that effect. A small 2015 study found that people who walked outside for 90 minutes were less likely to ruminate on their problems and have less activity in the brain area linked to depression in comparison to people who took similar walks in urban areas. “Nature becomes a major distraction from all the stresses of life,” said Dr. Peeke.
6. You save money
Exercising outdoors is not only convenient, but it’s less expensive than a gym membership. It also cuts costs for the community. A recent study in England of “green exercises”—those done outside, including dog walking, running, horseback riding, and mountain biking—estimated that the health benefits of doing physical activity in nature can save around $2.7 billion a year. “All you need is the right pair of shoes, and you can exercise on your own time,” said Dr. Peeke.
So, tie up your tennis shoes and get outdoors to workout this spring. Your mind, body, and wallet will thank you.