Exercise Is Even Better in Nature, Research Says

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April 12, 2023 -- Take exercise outside to nature if you want greater benefits, including mental clarity and motivation, new research into “green exercise” suggests.

One study, published in Nature, says the neurological effects of physical activity in nature include better working memory and concentration.

College students performed better after outdoor study breaks than indoor versions, said Katherine Boere, a neuroscience doctoral candidate at the University of Victoria, who worked on that study. The natural world calms people and can quiet distracting chatter of the mind.

She said nature holds attention without demanding a lot of intellectual processing. We can reset our attention and then concentrate better. Plus, walking, and other exercise stimulate more blood and oxygen to the brain.

Exercise is good for our bodies and our brains, of course. But it seems even better in nature.

“You may experience greater mental health benefits if you are able to be active outside in a natural environment,” said Claire Wicks, a senior research assistant at the University of Essex in England, in The Washington Post. Fifteen minutes of green exercise “appeared to be the most beneficial” for mental health.

Length of the workout matters, but not in a “more is always better” ways. 

“People reported feeling considerably more tranquil after walking or gently jogging for about 15 minutes through parks or similar spaces, but less so when the exercise lasted for 40 minutes or longer, or was draining,” The Post article said.

And the location of your outdoors matters, as well. It’s best to be in a park or some other natural setting – not walking around a downtown district or other built-up area without many trees or much greenspace, according to a review of past research published last year, in the journal Health and Well-Being.