Those stuck indoors all day have even more reason to get outside: recent research shows that outdoor activity helps to ward off depression as well as improve your general mental health. The positive effects of exercise have been thoroughly documented over the years. Researchers at the University of Essex investigated whether working out in nature, which they refer to as “green exercise,” would increase the benefits. Green exercise will perk up your life “by reducing stress levels, enhancing mood, and improving self-esteem.”
Interestingly enough, outdoor effects were first noticed indoors at a lab. Scientists had their subjects look at images while running on a treadmill. According to the research, “An 8.7% decrease in blood pressure was reported after exercising whilst viewing rural pleasant pictures compared with a 1.9% decrease when faced with a blank screen and a 3.3% increase in blood pressure after viewing urban unpleasant pictures.”
If merely looking at outdoor scenes is beneficial, surely being outside was even that much better. This inference was put to the test by studying walkers. People walked for equal amounts of time both outdoors and inside of a shopping mall. The walkers reported better self-esteem and less feelings of depression after walking outside, specifically “92% of participants felt less depressed; 86% less tense; 81% less angry; 80% less fatigued; 79% less confused and 56% more vigorous.”
The positive effects of green exercise include:
- long-term effects such as burning calories and lowering blood pressure
- overall improvement of psychological happiness
- development of social interaction and fulfillment
Ultimately the researchers are hoping that this body of research will help implement “green care” therapeutic programs. Eco-oriented therapy, using the great outdoors, could be used as part of a treatment strategy to help people struggling with obesity, depression, or other types of problems. Plus, the researchers believe, when people participate in outdoor activities, they are more likely to care about the environment. Ultimately, engaging in nature may help “green exercisers” make more eco-friendly choices in their daily lives.
In the meantime, you can use their findings to improve your own life. Use part of your lunch break to take a walk outside. Don’t restrict all of your exercise time to being indoors at the gym – bike, hike, or kayak. Before you know it, you will feel healthier, both mentally and physically.