How the great outdoors makes exercise better


Dec 12, 2014 by James

Exercise is good for virtually everybody – we all know that. However, some things are easier said than done, and maintaining an exercise routine appears to be one of them. Many of us resolve to exercise more often but fail to achieve that – however, new research from Canada seems to suggest that by taking the simple step of exercising outside, instead of indoors, women (and probably also men) can feel better and become substantially more likely to stick with an exercise regime.

This research looked at post-menopausal women, in whom regular exercise is known to decrease the risk of cancer, dementia, a range of chronic diseases, physical disability and infections, among other ailments. Although comparable studies have so far focused on women, the Canadian researchers suggest that similar results are likely to be seen in men.



The study team, based at the University Institute of Geriatrics of Sherbrooke, in Quebec, recruited 23 post-menopausal women to their three month long study. All of the women lived sedentary lives, exercising twice weekly or less, and were generally healthy non-smokers.

The women were randomly divided into two groups: one group followed a programme of aerobic exercise and strength training indoors, while the other group followed the same programme in an outdoor setting.

Throughout the three-month period, the participants were asked about their feelings, responses and reactions to the programme. This was done using questionnaires.



The researchers found that the women who exercised outdoors tended to feel calmer after workouts, and were more likely to attend exercise sessions. They also showed a greater tendency to increase their activity level outside the programme, and showed fewer symptoms of depression than their peers who exercised indoors.


Nature's benefits

So why does being outside make such a difference? The researchers suggest that being outdoors offers more interesting stimuli than exercising inside – perhaps it is a more complete and satisfying sensory experience, and the setting simply more interesting than yet another gym or leisure centre.

Furthermore, this team is not alone in finding a link between improved health and the great outdoors. A 2009 study of 345,143 Dutch people concluded that the closer you live to nature (or at least, to green spaces), the healthier you are likely to be.

Several explanations have been put forward for this. It is undoubtedly true that spending more time outside increases your vitamin D levels, since vitamin D is generated by sunlight. In addition, exposure to sunlight is known to regulate sleep patterns, and better sleep tends to equal better health and an enhanced sense of wellbeing.

Whatever the reason behind it, there does seem to be a link between exercising outdoors and good health outcomes. The pleasing news is that outdoor exercise is fairly easy to come by: gardening, walking and cycling can all be good forms of exercise, and an increasing number of local authorities are installing outdoor gyms in their local parks.

So, the next time you feel the need to start an exercise regime, why not look outdoors for your 'gym'? Even when the weather is less than scorching, the benefits certainly seem to make it worthwhile.