The great outdoors

December 04 2015

You can’t beat the gym for climate-controlled convenience but venturing outdoors has a wealth of benefits too – not least, the spirit-lifting sunshine. Here’s why ‘going natural’ can set you up for the day.

outdoors-woman

The feel-good factor

Even a small dose of fresh air every day really can make a difference to our mood. According to research, just five minutes of exercise in a green space, such as your local park, is enough to noticeably lower stress levels and blood pressure. Scientists are yet to pinpoint entirely why this is the case but believe it has much to do with the extra oxygen and sunlight we get outdoors. Mixing up your fitness routine and taking things outside occasionally may also have the benefit of distracting you from your tough workout.

You’ll work harder

Studies have found that al fresco exercise can improve energy levels and motivation, with people who train outdoors frequently working out for longer periods of time than those indoors. Factors such as varied terrain and wind resistance can mean your muscles work harder and differently – people tend to flex their ankles more when training outdoors, for instance, whilst running up and downhill works muscles you might not normally use in the gym. Being out in the sun helps warm our muscles too, easing stiffness and lessening chances of injury – just be sure to warm up fully if it’s a cold day. 

outdoors-man

The science bit

Exercising outdoors boosts our levels of a feel-good brain chemical called serotonin, leaving you with a post-workout grin. It also provides us with some much-needed vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin that’s responsible for healthy bones and teeth. In addition to all that, the sun’s UV rays release a compound that has been linked to improved cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

How much sun is enough?

Estimates suggest that up to 50% of people worldwide could be vitamin D deficient, but moderation is the key – the sun’s rays also burn. The window of sunlight needed depends on skin type, global location, and time of day and year, but generally between five and 15 minutes of unprotected exposure is all you need for a healthy dose of vitamin D – after that use sun protection.

Park-friendly exercise tips

  • Find a bench. Seriously useful when working out in the park: they’re the perfect height for several basic but super-effective exercises and there are plenty of them around. Use them for push-ups, step-ups and triceps dips.
  • Bring your own props. Two drink bottles filled with water or sand make for great DIY weights.
  • Step on it. Make the most of everyday items like stairs. Running up and down a few flights will get your cardiovascular system pumping, while they’re also great props for step-ups, stair dips, mountain climbers and squats. 
  • Use your surroundings. Trees make great substitute exercise machines. Try doing pull-ups on a low-hanging tree branch or wall squats against its trunk. A kids’ playground can be your ready-made outdoor gym, provided it’s safely child-free at the time. Try pull-ups on the monkey bars, or do some swing knee tucks: starting in press-up position with your hands on the ground and your feet in the seat of the swing, bend your knees and bring them into your chest; extend them again and repeat.

As you can see, there are plenty of mental and physical benefits to training al fresco. Do you have any tips for outdoor workouts? Please leave your suggestions below…