A landmark 2019 study
of 20,000 people confirmed what many of us suspect to be true: Spending time in natural environments can benefit health
and well-being. Researchers found that people who spent two hours a week, either all at once or spaced over several visits, in natural environments were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t.
Two hours was the minimum needed to accrue benefit, as briefer periods of time made no impact on health. The effects cut across class, race, education, region and prior health conditions. This, and a bevy of other studies on human interaction with nature, all point to this: Being in nature isn’t just a luxury, but non-negotiable for optimum health.
The health benefits of nature
Many studies over the past decade have shown how being in nature does wonders for both physical and mental health. But lately, research focused on green exercise–working out while experiencing nature—have come to the fore.
According to research, green exercise confers added benefits compared to exercising indoors or in urban “built” environments. The advantages range from improved immune function, lower blood pressure after exercise and potentially more restful sleep at night to enhanced mood and lower levels of perceived exertion. For many, green exercise feels less taxing, sometimes even when people are working physiologically harder, than the comparison ‘non-green’ exercise.
As Frank Lloyd Wright famously said, “Study Nature, love Nature, stay close to Nature. It will never fail you.
” Add to Lloyd’s list “workout in nature” and you have a recipe for epic fitness. Here are six ideas to get outside and get the most from your green workouts.
How to enjoy the benefits of nature
Make it mindful
Commit to taking 20 minutes a day to spend time in nature—hiking
, biking, walking, or even gardening. Whatever your exercise of choice, do it mindfully. Engage all your senses, observe your surroundings without judgment, and appreciate everything around you that's bringing your body and mind into a state of calm. Focus on the rhythm of your breathing, the anchoring force of the inhale exhale.
And you don’t have to make an excursion into nature a road trip to a state or national park. Avail yourself on whatever is available locally—any local park or green space will do. Many communities now have biking and walking paths that make this introduction to green exercise even more convenient and accessible to people young and old.
Slot it in at anytime
Whether it's a morning run first thing, your coffee on the patio, walking your dog or your child to school, or modifying your morning commute, there are many ways to get that healthy morning dose of vitamin N (nature). If you drive to work, consider walking
or riding your bike (even bussing means more time outside).
Take your lunch to a park bench, spend 10-15 minutes walking outside, or get out on the patio or rooftop if that is your only option. You can also try doing a few yoga poses
in the park. You may even find that your favorite yoga becomes grass.
Take an evening stroll or ride. Many people are taking advantage of not only the rails-to-trails movement, which turned old railroad tracks into paths to bike in green stretches of cities, but many communities have expanded their mountain biking trails as well. During the pandemic, the “walktail” combo—a walk with cocktail in hand—became a fun way to sip and stroll.
Try out some winter sports
Nature therapy is definitely easier when the weather is fair, but it doesn't mean you should neglect the outdoors for a significant portion of the year. Just because it’s cold out there doesn’t mean it’s no fun to get out. If you are dressed for success, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice skating, and sledding are all great ways to experience the stark beauty of winter.
Try something new or pick up an old childhood favorite—you might be surprised at how much pleasure it brings. Nowadays, fat tires make mountain biking in winter a thing.
Don’t forget blue space
Open water may even have more of a favorable impact on the quality of your workout than standard parks and forests. Marine environments, even more than green spaces—land that is partly or completely covered with grass, trees, shrubs or other vegetation)—have been shown to improve our health, body and mind.
Recent studies have found that areas where people have lots of opportunity to gaze at blue spaces—bodies of water like the sea, lakes, ponds and even rivers—are associated with inducing positive mood and reducing negative mood and stress.
And it isn’t only the water that’s beneficial
, but the water’s associated soundscape and the quality of light on water that add to the general restorative effect. Consider taking up fishing, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding. Even just biking, running or walking around a lake or by a river or ocean can make you feel invigorated and refreshed, simultaneously.