Mental and Physical Benefits of “Green Exercise”

As we finally start to see an end to what has been a particularly long and challenging winter for most of the U.S., the thought of being able to exercise outside in the sun is probably absolutely thrilling for you. In a past post, we explored some of the benefits of this so-called “green exercise” but paid particular attention to the physical advantages that getting outside can offer you. Several studies, however, have seen mental and even emotional benefits. What are some of these benefits and could they also improve your physical well-being?


A Brief Overview

A large review, conducted in 2011 but the American Chemical Society asked the question “Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors?” To find the answer, the researchers looked at data collected by a number of sources including 11 different studies that involved a total of 833 subjects.

While none of the studies used in the review looked at any of the physical effects of exercise, some thought-provoking mental effects were observed. For example, those volunteers who exercised outdoors had more energy afterward and reported decreased feelings of anger, anxiety and depression. Most importantly, the subjects who went outside were more satisfied with their workout and more likely to repeat it than those who stayed in.

The significance of this last fact really cannot be overstated. Workout enjoyment is a key factor is helping you form healthy habits and reach your fitness goals. If doing something as small as going outside is going to make it easier for you to adhere to a routine, then it becomes a very big deal.


The Physical Link

Although it’s not news that your mental health can have a powerful impact on your physical performance, and visa versa, a new study explored this link further. Specifically, the researchers asked children aged 9-10 to cycle for 15 minutes. One group was shown scenes of nature while the other had nothing to look at but the wall. At the end of the workouts, the children that got to enjoy a simulated view had significantly lower blood pressure than those who didn’t.

While it’s true that similar effects haven’t yet been seen in adults, it’s reasonable to assume that the link is there. What’s truly fascinating about this particular study, though, is that the benefits were observed with a simulated natural scene; the children didn’t actually go outside. This suggests that simply watching footage of nature on a television screen mounted to a treadmill is more beneficial than nothing at all. Keeping this in mind can help you get the most out of your workouts even when weather or other factors confine you to the gym.

It’s also worth noting that the study didn’t examine the effects of watching something besides natural scenes. Since many people like to watch the news, sitcoms or other shows, it would be beneficial to understand whether or not this could have the same effect on your blood pressure.

The fact remains, though, that with the days getting longer and warmer there is more and more reason to move your workout outside.