Be honest, how often do you stop and take a moment to really appreciate the great outdoors? Whether you live in New York City or Colorado, every time you step outside you’re greeted by shining sun (most days, hopefully), swaying trees and curious creatures.
Sure, some areas are more “green” than others—spotting a bald eagle in your backyard is arguably more exciting than trying to shoo away pigeons on a city sidewalk —but no matter where you reside you’re sure to be surrounded by some aspect of nature, which is good news because time spent outside is almost directly related to your overall health and wellbeing.
And according to recent research, when you combine that time spent outside with physical activity, the effects are incomparable.
“In a 2011 meta-analysis of relevant studies, researchers concluded that compared to indoor workouts, exercising outside causes greater engagement and revitalization, lowers depression and increases a person’s enjoyment of the activity,” says health and fitness expert Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint and creator of MarksDailyApple.com. “People who exercise outside are also more likely to repeat the exercise at a later date. Outdoor workouts don’t feel like work. They’re more fun, and they perpetuate themselves.”
It almost seems like common sense; of course exercising outside (what you once called playtime and used to beg for just five more minutes of) is more enjoyable than working out in a confined, indoor space with our sweaty peers.
The good news is that for most Americans Outdoor Recreation levels are at a record high. According to the Outdoor Industry association’s 2013 report, “[In 2012] nearly 142 million people (49.9% of the population) enjoyed outdoor recreation, up about 800,000 since 2011.”
On the other hand, the amount of time children are spending outside seems to be on the decline.
One report by the Children and Nature Network found that from the 1980s to 2000s children’s lives have become significantly more structured and media oriented, leaving them with less time to play in nature independently. Of 800 mothers in the U.S. who were surveyed in 2007, 71% said that they remember playing outside every day as kids, but only 26% said that their own children spend time outside every day. The study’s author associated the decline with obstacles such as TV, computers and safety concerns.
In the same report, another survey from 2008 with over 40,000 participants found that participation in outdoor activities tends to decline with age.
“There’s also a lot to be said about the impact nature has on your mental and emotional health,” says Sisson. “Most people are confined to desks all day at their workplace, so taking yourself out of the atmosphere that is the source of most of your stress is crucial. Even taking a 15-minute break to walk around a nearby park will have a positive impact on the quality of your sleep and your day.”
The point is, if you feel like you’re in a funk or you’re becoming exceedingly bored with your exercise routine, try increasing the amount of time you spend moving around outside. And if you have kids, encourage the same habit early on.
“Regular contact with nature isn’t an elective. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a requirement,” says Sisson. “I strongly believe that everyone, deep down, feels this way. That desire to explore and experience and simply be in nature exists in all of us, and it’s there for a very good reason. It’s important. It makes us healthy. It keeps us sane and engaged. We ignore it at our own peril.”
If you’re ready to reconnect with nature, keep reading to learn about the many health benefits of exercising outside. And when you’re finished, log out, shut down and go play outside!