How "Nature’s Cure" Benefits Your Health and Wellness
A typical day for many of us is spent indoors, seated at a desk, surrounded by computer screens, phones, electronic devices, only to go home to more screens and electronic devices. Our outdoor time may be limited to going from building to car and back again. We may exercise indoors at a fitness center, plugged into an iPhone or on a treadmill watching the news on TV. Even here in the Upper Valley, where the opportunities for getting out in the fresh air are abundant compared to more urban areas, we can lose touch with the outdoors, especially in winter. The human body was not meant to be cooped up indoors, surrounded by the stimulation of technology, and researchers are finding a correlation between the lack of outdoor time and health problems. With this in mind and warmer weather approaching, it's a good time to revisit your fitness routine and try to "take it outside" to benefit your health.
There have been numerous studies in recent years that have uncovered the link between our society's sedentary lifestyle and health risks such as heart disease, high cholesterol and stress. According to information from the Johns Hopkins Medical Library, a sedentary lifestyle increases your chances for high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, anxiety, depression and even some forms of cancer. We rely on technology to the point of addiction and rarely go "unplugged", a factor that elevates stress, reduces concentration and diminishes our productivity (Archer, S. 2013 Digital Distractions IDEA Fitness Journal 10).
But, you say, I exercise regularly indoors and stay fit. Even if we do get unplugged from our laptops and smartphones and hit the gym, the overall benefits are not as significant. In a 2011 study researchers sought to discover whether exercising outdoors ahead a significant impact on our physical and mental well being compared to exercising indoors. The results, according to the researchers (Thompson et al 2011) show that "exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression, and increased energy." Doctors have also known for years that even short exposures to natural light improve our moods and help combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). What makes the difference? Being outside has a measurable physical impact on the body, decreasing heart rate and blood pressure and reducing stress he improves such as catecholamine that create a balancing feeling similar to that found during meditation. Simply put, being in nature has a beneficial effect on the human body.
So much better for you than a treadmill!
Taking your fitness program outdoors is not as difficult as it might seem, and with summer around the corner the possibilities increase dramatically. Here are just a few options that you can add to your regular workout to gain health benefits as well as cross train your muscles and help increase your cardiovascular health.
- Walking, jogging or running, especially on trails or in a peaceful environment
- Rock climbing
- Swimming in a lake or pond
- Canoeing, stand up paddle boarding or kayaking
- Yoga (think of how great it could be a quiet field or hilltop! - more about this to come!)
Exercising - use park benches, tree stumps, rocks, inclines as props for a body weight fitness routine and add some walking or jogging - your own personal and FREE gym!
As a fitness professional, I encourage my clients to look at options outside the traditional fitness routines and include outdoor activities as part of their overall wellness program. The fun factor of taking your exercise routine outside is exponential, something that again helps our mental well being but also helps create a consistent adherence to participating in fitness. If it's fun and doesn't feel like a "workout", more than likely you'll keep at it. That's the goal of fitness - to make it an integral part of your lifestyle. After a great hike, peaceful trail run, or exhilarating ride, I guarantee you will feel the health benefits of the "Nature Cure".
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