By Holly St. Lifer
The warm weather has finally arrived -- and with it, yet another study showing a health boon to moving among the leaves and blossoms. According to the School of Built Environment in Edinburgh, strolling through an outdoor green space quiets the mind and lessens brain fatigue. Here are six more reasons to walk, bike, run, climb, blade and even strength train in nature.
You'll work out longer. Whether you power up and down a set of bleachers in your favorite park or mountain bike along a remote wooded trail, the distractions of your surroundings take your mind off the work of working out. As a result, you'll end up going a lot farther than you would have if you'd been walled in. "You can press 'stop' on a treadmill, but you can't turn back time after you've walked or jogged three or more miles," says Hollywood-based trainer Kristen Anderson, founder of My Daily Trainer, an individualized online program.
You'll zap more calories. Research shows that exercisers burn 10 percent more calories when they walk or run outdoors than they do when they hoof it inside on a treadmill at the same speed. "When you're caught up in your environment, you're less focused on how tired you are or how much your muscles ache," says John Porcari, an exercise physiologist at the University Wisconsin-La Crosse. "We did a study where subjects rode through a virtual countryside and raced against other people, and we found they exercised 12 percent harder because they were distracted."
You’ll get off the mat. Parks are good for more than dog-walking and picnics -- they’re an ideal spot for toning. Try this mini-workout: Using a park bench as your prop, do 12 reps each of tricep dips with one leg extended (then switch legs), power jump-ups (squat, then swing arms for momentum and jump on to the bench, landing in a squat) and bicycles (lean back 45 degrees on the bench, with your hands next to your hips). Then hit the grass for push-ups and punching lunges.
You'll elevate your self-esteem. Nature's stimulation also impacts your brain in positive ways. In an article in Environmental Science & Technology, British researchers shared their findings that exercising outdoors improves self-esteem and that a walk in the country improves one's mood. "Outdoor exercise stimulates all five senses in a way that indoor activities can't," says Danny Dreyer, founder of ChiWalking, a North Carolina-based program that combines the relaxation principles of t'ai chi with walking. "Breathing in fresh air, feeling the ground under your feet, and taking in all the colors and sounds in nature are positive stimulants hitting you at the same time. You can't help but feel better about yourself and the world around you."
You'll feel happier and have a greater sense of well-being. Communing in nature makes people feel more alive, according to a series of studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. In a number of other recent studies, volunteers went for two walks for the same time or distance -- one inside (usually on a treadmill or around a track), the other outdoors. Virtually all of the participants reported enjoying the outside activity more and scored significantly higher on psychological tests measuring vitality and energy, and lower in anger and depression.
You'll reduce stress. According to the California Outdoor Recreation Planning Program, over 100 studies found stress was lowered during activities that took place in either "the wilderness or urban nature areas." Here's Dryer's recommendation for a stress-diminishing walk or run: Direct your focus away from your thoughts and try to get your body moving in a relaxed way. Soften your gaze, breathe deeply into your belly through your nose, drop your shoulders and direct your energy into your lower body and away from your head. Try not to plan, think, judge, worry, describe or consider.
You'll save money. The average gym membership costs between $40 and $50 a month, which isn't bad if you go five days a week. But Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, the authors of Freakonomics, wrote in the New York Times that people who buy annual gym memberships often overestimate how much they'll use the facilities by 70 percent. Running out your front door also saves you cash on gas.