The benefits of outdoor fitness
By Helaine Krasner, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN
It’s a great time to think about increasing our exposure to sunshine now that the days are feeling shorter due to less hours of daylight. Exposure to daylight helps regulate our circadian rhythm, the natural process that controls our sleep-wake cycle. Sunlight also helps boost serotonin in your brain which can help you feel more energetic, calm, and focused.
Another important health benefit of being outdoors is our exposure to the UV rays from the sun that enables our skin to produce vitamin D that is then absorbed by the body. Concerns about the dangers of overexposure to these harmful rays may limit our desire to be outside for any length of time, so consider wearing sunscreen to reduce risks rather than avoid the outdoors altogether.
An abundance of research shows that exposure to green space improves our physical and mental health and boosts our wellbeing. A recent meta-analysis showed that increased greenspace exposure was associated with decreases in cortisol (the stress hormone), heart rate, and diastolic blood pressure (1). The benefits of participating in outdoor activities seems to extend beyond the physical realm. Recent research indicates that exercising outdoors appears to be more beneficial to mental health compared with indoor activities (2). There seems to be a synergistic effect that occurs when physical activity occurs in nature, also referred to as “green exercise”. Studies also suggest that exercising outdoors reduces perceived exertion and reduces our awareness of physiological sensations and negative emotions.
To reap these benefits, perform at least some of your fitness routine outside or consider adding a new outdoor activity. You may be surprised to find that you enjoy the activity more and feel better afterwards.
Ideas for Outdoor Activities
Wash the car
Walk the dog
Take a hike
Ride a bike
Play pickle ball
Walk at a local beach
Try an outdoor yoga class
Go for a run
Take a nature walk
Use Your Senses to Connect
Smell the air
Listen to the sounds of nature
Feel the sunshine…or the breeze
Notice the colors and textures all around you
Be Smart / Be Safe
Be aware of your surroundings
Dress appropriately for the weather conditions
Wear sunscreen according to recommendations
Take safety precautions by considering potential risks
Set a Specific Goal to Make it Happen
Example: Starting today I will go for a brisk 20-minute walk after dinner paying special attention to the changing foliage and landscape I see along the way.
- Twohig-Bennett, C., & Jones, A. (2018). The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes. Environmental research, 166, 628–637. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2018.06.030
- Gladwell, V.F., Brown, D.K., Wood, C. et al.(2013). The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all. Extrem Physiol Med 2, https://doi.org/10.1186/2046-7648-2-3
Helaine Krasner, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who takes great pride in helping our Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients achieve their health and weight loss goals.