Green exercise: the benefits of getting outside

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Australia truly is the lucky country. Even in our largest cities we are not far from nature and open green spaces. Research shows that this may work in our favour in more ways than one. Outdoor exercise or “green exercise” is shown to offer a unique set of benefits when compared to the indoor variety. Green exercise refers to any physical activity that occurs outdoors in natural environments. With the luxury of longer days at our disposal, let’s look at what outdoor exercise has to offer!

The benefits of exercising outdoors

One study showed that people who exercised regularly outdoors typically did 30 minutes more per week when compared to people who exercised indoors. Not only did they exercise for longer, they also had better adherence to their exercise program. People generally report finding outdoor exercise more enjoyable and satisfying. This can in part be attributed to the extra stimuli outdoor environments provide our senses. Natural landscapes provide us with interesting sights, sounds and a varying terrain that can’t be replicated in a gym. Visual distractions provided by outdoor environments have also been shown to reduce ratings of perceived exertion with exercise meaning that it feels easier for our bodies.

There is a growing amount of evidence that supports the benefits of being in nature whilst exercising. Doctors overseas are now beginning to prescribe spending time in nature to their patients to assist in managing various chronic conditions, especially those related to mood and mental health. The act of simply looking at a green space can reduce hormones related to stress, such as cortisol and adrenaline.

Good for your emotional wellbeing

We know exercise in any kind of environment is beneficial for our mental wellbeing, but outdoor exercise may provide additional mental health benefits, especially when it comes to managing stress, anxiety and our mood. One theory is that outdoor exercise may reduce neural activity to the area in our brain (called the subgenual prefrontal cortex) which is responsible for, amongst other things, repetitively processing negative feelings and thoughts (also known as ruminating). Test this theory for yourself. Next time you are feeling stressed, try some outdoor exercise like a local walking trail, park or public garden that is away from the urban sprawl.

Work your muscles

The varying terrain that outdoor exercise offers also means that different muscle groups are incorporated during the activity. Uneven terrain means more stabiliser muscles are required and our balance, coordination and reaction time is challenged in more ways than on a standard treadmill or exercise bike. Your traditional cardio equipment requires repetitive movement at our joints, whereas outdoor exercise promotes more diversity in movement.

Vitamin D

Outdoor exercise will also help boost your levels of vitamin D which is an important vitamin in assisting with the absorption of calcium and maintaining bone health. Over 30% of Australians have some form of Vitamin D deficiency. This can increase the risk of bone and joint pain, as well as chronic diseases, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. It is important to note that the amount sun exposure required to produce adequate levels of Vitamin D is quite low. In summer it is recommended that the best time to top up your Vitamin D levels is during the mid-morning or mid-afternoon which also aligns with a good to exercise to avoid the hotter parts of the day

At the end of the day our bodies reward us for all forms of movement, regardless of whether it is indoors or outside. If you find yourself getting bored of your current exercise, why not give your routine a spring clean moving into the warmer months. Try incorporating some outdoor activities or exercise options throughout the week such as walking trails, bushwalks, hiking, cycling or finding green spaces in your local area to do some exercise.

*This article was updated on 6 April 2022.

You don’t need to be an athlete, you just need to move a little more than you did yesterday.

Join our community of over 45,000 people living with diabetes