Without a doubt, exercise training is the best way to improve your health, speed up your metabolism, and melt away excess body fat. However, getting in a good workout doesn’t require regular trips to the gym or even hours and hours spent on treadmills, stationary bikes, and other monotonous equipment. In fact, you can substantially boost the benefits of exercise training by occasionally taking your workouts outside.
Whether you live in a warm climate or not, I highly recommend making an effort to use some of your scheduled exercise time as a way to enjoy the great outdoors. Here are three surprisingly unique ways that doing so can significantly improve your health.
Improves Your Mood and Fights Depression
Ever heard of the ‘runner’s high’? That is the amazing feeling of euphoria that often occurs after a good run. Most folks don’t know that this same ‘high’ can easily be achieved by simply exercising outdoors. Outdoor exercise greatly heightens the body’s production and release of endorphins, which are essentially the brain’s ‘happy’ or ‘feel good’ hormones.
Low levels of endorphins are closely associated with the development of depression and other mood disorders. Interestingly, studies show that just 5 minutes of outdoor exercise can result in improved self-esteem and mood.
But why stop there?
To keep your endorphin levels in full swing, dedicate at least 20-30 minutes of your day to an outdoor walk, jog, bike ride, hike or even a bout of high-intensity interval training.
Naturally Raises Your Vitamin D Levels
Outdoor exercise will give you an ample supply of vitamin D. Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that plays a critical role in keeping your bones and teeth strong and healthy. Its synthesis is triggered when your skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays from direct sunlight. To ensure sufficient levels, exercise outdoors (without sunscreen) for at least 10-30 minutes each day, 2-3 days per week with your face, back, legs, arms and/or hands exposed.
For maximum benefits, make an effort to do so when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, which typically occurs between the hours of 10am and 3pm. In conjunction with regular exercise, raising your vitamin D levels this way can lower the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory infections, and inflammatory disorders.
Boosts Your Immunity and Expedites Healing
Numerous studies have shown that you can actually improve your immunity and even hasten recovery time from illness or injury by regularly going for long walks, jogs, or hikes in the great outdoors, especially amidst forest environments like scenic trails, state parks, and forest preserves. In fact, the Japanese have a concept called “Shinrin-yoku” that translates to “forest bathing”, an interesting method of immersing yourself in a forest environment for better health.
Trees and plants within natural forest environments emit specialized health-promoting compounds called phytonicides. Remarkably, the simple act of breathing in phytonicides reduces production of the potent stress hormone cortisol. Reducing your levels of cortisol can lower the risk of numerous chronic diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
As an avid outdoor runner and lover of bicycling, hiking, and kayaking, I can personally attest to both the mental and physical benefits of outdoor workouts. If structured exercise isn’t your thing, start with leisure walks in the park, playground time with the kids or even some friendly games of tennis. Your options for outdoor activities are endless!