|(Warren Goldswain - Fotolia.com) |
So you want to get more out of your workouts? Then take them outside, says naturopathic doctor Alan Logan.
It’s called “green exercise” and a growing body of scientific research continues to prove that getting your sweat on in the great outdoors is much more beneficial than the indoor alternative.
“The overarching message is that being outdoors in nature is good for us,” Logan tells Sun Media in a phone interview from New York. “I try to get out on a daily basis and take advantage of green space whenever I can.”
In a landmark 1980 study, U.S. psychologists James Pennebaker and Jean Lightner compared the performance of novice joggers on two 1,800-metre trails - one through a forested area and the other through a non-wooded area. The study’s adult subjects were instructed to jog at their own pace and they had to complete both courses within 10 days.
“In the end, the completion times were much faster in the woods, there was less psychological stress associated with exercise when they ran in the woods, more satisfaction, more enjoyment and less frustration,” Logan explains.
“But the key thing was there was also less pain. What the researchers surmised was that when you exercise in a forested area you’re getting out of your own mind to a degree. You’re more interested and focused in the external environment, rather than internally about the discomfort that you’re feeling.”
In essence, green exercise makes us feel better about exercise, and it’s all-around better for us.
Numerous studies have followed, including a series of more extensive Japanese experiments that made head-to-head comparisons of vigorous walking in forested areas versus urban areas, as well as on treadmills.
Without fail, the Japanese subjects reported greater mental outlook and less perceived stress during their jaunts in the woods, notes Logan. The findings correlated with a reduction in the level of stress hormones, blood pressure and other physiological markers, he adds.
Many variables are at work, Logan says, such as Vitamin D from sunlight, negative ions in the air, and chemicals secreted by trees.
“Japanese scientists have found those are associated with the benefits of green exercise,” he adds.
And as countless scientists have also discovered, the most significant benefits of green exercise have been difficult to miss.
“Separate research from Scotland in 2012 showed that nature-based recreation — whether it be in a forest, woodland, park and so on — was associated with more positive mental health compared to gym exercise or sports centre use, and it wasn’t by a little bit. It was actually 50% higher,” Logan explains.
The value of green exercise has also been measured in the realm of sports — with fascinating results. In a 2011 study, University of Texas researchers evaluated the performances of 128 track and field athletes at four venues during a spring competition season. Each venue had been rated on a “greenness” scale.
“What they found was performance was best in the areas where there was a lot of greenness,” says Logan, a scientist and independent researcher himself.
Closer to home, Elizabeth Nisbet, a psychologist at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., has helped to prove that individuals underestimate the value of green exercise.
Of course, Logan, isn’t one of those people.
“I’ve always enjoyed it (green exercise),” he says, “but having researched and written about it, I’m far, far more aware of it than I ever would’ve been.”
That’s why Logan heads outside as often as possible — even in the dead of winter. And he urges Canadians to follow suit, noting that researchers in the United Kingdom have found that it takes as little as five minutes to start to attain some benefit from outdoor exercise.
“You can always go out for a walk, right?” says Logan. “And walking outside is going to trump the treadmill.”
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