It's official, we have sprung our clocks forward in the signs of early sunlight and warmer weather. That's right. We have finally reached that time of year where we can return to nature without being chilled by the winter cold. Spring marks the perfect time to return to popular outdoor fitness activities like hiking, trail running, mountain biking, or walking your dog in your local park. While we know there are physical benefits to your body and muscles from doing these activities, like any other workout, there may be other health benefits that only nature can provide.
It's common knowledge that the physical activities we perform have a physical response to our bodies. This principle is the core of fitness. You must use your body in physical activities like weightlifting, running, swimming, and hiking to gain strength and build muscle. But did you know that performing any of these activities while you outdoors provides other mental and physical health benefits?
Cardio is a great way to lose or maintain body weight and improve overall wellness. It strengthens your heart, increases lung capacity, reduces the risk of heart attack, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. While many people rely on stationary cardio equipment in public gyms, evidence shows it may be even more beneficial to take it outside.
In many areas, the outdoor air quality will be much higher than the stale air in the gym, especially during cold and flu season! Breathing in the fresh air from outside brings along many health benefits on its own. One study showed a 90 percent increase in energy by being surrounded by nature and fresh air.
You don't have to be outdoors for hours to receive these benefits either! Researcher Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, authored a series of studies in the Journal of Environmental Psychology on the effects of being outdoors. These studies showed that being outdoors for just 20 minutes a day was enough to boost vitality levels.
Improved energy and vitality aren't the only perks of breathing in fresh air from outside. Fresh air can help digest food more effectively, improve blood pressure and heart rate, and strengthen the immune system. The act of breathing in quality air from the outdoors also helps clean the lungs. Fresh air helps the airways of your lungs to dilate more fully and improves their natural cleansing action, leading to cleaner, healthier lungs.
While all this sounds great, we must also keep in mind that all outdoor air is not the same. The quality of air in highly populated areas, such as big cities, is notoriously poor. Emissions from cars and factories fill the air causing an alarming amount of health concerns of there own. But the act of trading trees for towering buildings may have an equally impactful effect on our health.
If you know anything about stress, you probably know it isn't a good thing. It can play a role in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety. So getting ourselves to relax and destress can be an incredibly important act in our daily lives.
However, this is an act that can be easier said than done at times, especially when you live in the city. A study published in the Journal of Biological Regulators & Homeostatic Agents found those who spent time walking in a forest showed more physical signs of relaxation, including lower blood pressure and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, compared to when they walked in cities.
If you live in a city, make sure to get out of town as much as possible. Even if it's only once a week, that can still go a long way in helping you relax and relieve stress. Find new places in nature to explore on hikes, walks, or runs. The fresher air quality and natural scenery will improve your workout and your health!