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Would you rather watch The Walking Dead on a treadmill or feel like you’re part of it on a trail run? It’s better for us to take that jog outdoors than to plod away inside, according to research. For most of us, spring is here or getting close. Here’s how taking your sweat sesh into fresh air makes a difference:
Gain good vibes now
Doing a workout in nature boosts your mood, ups your energy, and increases feelings of joy more than doing the same activity indoors, according to a 2011 review of 11 studies in Environmental Science & Technology.
People are more likely to say they’ll repeat an outdoor walk than an indoor stroll (Environmental Science & Technology, 2011).
Care about the community
College students who watched nature videos were more likely to behave in ways that support the environment and cooperation with others than were those who viewed videos of artificial environments, according to a 2015 study in Journal of Environmental Psychology.
See the bigger picture
Looking at images of nature led people to seek long-term benefits rather than instant gratification, says a 2013 study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Step away from stress together
Walking in nature with friends increases our mental well-being and reduces the effects of stressful events, according to a 2014 study in Ecopsychology. Our physical health benefits too: People who live in leafy urban neighborhoods feel healthier and are less prone to heart disease and diabetes than are those who live without trees, according to a 2015 study in Scientific Reports.
7 new ways to get fit outdoors
1 Frolfing or another game
Grab a frisbee for a round of “frolfing” (i.e., frisbee or disc golf). It’s like regular golf without the club and the stuffy dress code. “I like golf but am not good enough. I’m better at frisbee, so a marriage of the two is enjoyable,” says James T., an undergraduate at Clemson University, South Carolina. Other games students favor: frisbee, KanJam, croquet, and flag football.
2 Themed runs
Escape a zombie attack—you won’t even realize you’re getting a killer workout. Or get splashed with colored powder in a 5K that feels like a party. Themed runs, from Tough Mudders to paint runs to undie runs, may get you moving after all. “My friends and I enjoy these—it’s more fun than work,” says Sarah K., an undergraduate at Defiance College, Ohio.
3 Inline skating or skateboarding
Don’t overlook the whizzy stuff you may have skipped (or loved) as a kid. “Rollerblading is definitely making a comeback. I’m kind of a clumsy person, so I don’t make a point of speed-skating down the sidewalks, but the motion is smooth and the breeze feels great,” says Reilly G., an undergraduate, at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. Skateboarding is another means of transport with similar thrill potential.
4 Paddleboarding or kayaking
Paddle your way to fit in a kayak or on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP). Work on your balance, challenge your core strength, and pretend it’s as easy as everyone’s Instagram suggests. Try SUP yoga—just leave crow pose to the pros. “It’s very soothing to hear the rush of water moving to fill the air bubble where the paddle was,” says John G., an undergraduate at Saint Mary’s College of California.
5 Rock climbing or bouldering
You don’t need to be superhuman to scale surfaces. “To overcome the little voice in your head that says ‘don’t do it’ and stand out over that edge….. It’s enlightening, a rush of adrenaline,” says Satish*, a graduate student at Berea College, Kentucky (*name changed). Or try bouldering: climbing close to the ground on a low-lying rock.
“It’s this generation’s version of sitting in rocking chairs on a front porch,” says Maryevalyn W., an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. “It’s easy to set up a hammock in the woods or in a park between poles or trees and just chill out.” Research on the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” (spending time in wooded areas), has shown physical and emotional health benefits. For more foresty action, take a hike or take photos.
7 Trail biking
Life is too short not to try biking off-road. Explore national and state parks, and incorporate a meditation-inducing destination. “It’s the best way to rid myself of stress. You just take in the scenery, get a little adrenaline rush, and burn off energy. You feel mentally revitalized,” says Santo B., a fifth-year student at the University of Windsor, Ontario.
Your Best Instagram
“Living in Wyoming gives a lot of options for outdoor activities. Rock climbing gives you a huge sense of accomplishment when you can complete a tough route you have been working on. It also forces you to build muscles you never really realize you have. I never thought about building my finger strength until I started rock climbing. It just brings a totally different form of being active to my life.”
—Kirsten Jacobson, University of Wyoming
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Coon, J. T., Boddy, K., Stein, K., Whear, R., et al. (2011). Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental well being than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environmental Science & Technology, 45(5), 1761–1772.
Godbey, G. (2009). Outdoor Recreation, Health, and Wellness: Understanding and Enhancing the Relationship. Prepared for the Outdoor Resources Review Group. RFF DP 09–21. Retrieved from http://usplaycoalition.clemson.edu/resources/articles/Godbey_Outdoors_and_Wellness.pdf
Kardan, O., Gozdyra, P., Misic, B., Moola, F., et al. (2015). Neighborhood green space and health in a large urban center. Scientific Reports, 5, 11610.
Marselle, M. R., Irvine, K. N., & Warber, S. L. (2014). Examining group walks in nature and multiple aspects of well-being: A large-scale study. Ecopsychology, 6(3), 134–147.
Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., et al. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): Evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, 15(1), 18–26. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568835
Student Health 101 survey, November 2016.
Van der Wal, A. J., Schade, H. M., Krabbendam, L., & van Vugt, M. (2013). Do natural landscapes reduce future discounting in humans? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280(1773). Retrieved from http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/280/1773/20132295
Zelenski, J. M., Dopko, R. L., & Capaldi, C. A. (2015). Cooperation is in our nature: Nature exposure may promote cooperative and environmentally sustainable behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 42(6), 24–31. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494415000195