KEY POINTS:

1. If motivation is a concern, you're more likely to stick to your exercise routine if you exercise outside.

2. Exercising in nature has been shown to improve measures of revitalization, self-esteem, energy, pleasure, and decreases frustration, worry, confusion, depression, tension, and tiredness more than exercising indoors.

3. Exercising in nature also boosts your immune system due to the chemicals emitted by plants. 

If you are increasing your exercise and activity, that’s great! More physical activity will help your muscles, blood, heart and lungs - pretty much everything in your body. Doing it outside is even better. I find that getting outside to exercise is so much better than going to the gym. I go to the gym and I like it, but I really love running on trails. Think about running on the treadmill for an hour or going out and running trails for an hour.
 
What’s amazing is that simply looking at pictures of nature can lower your blood pressure, stress and mental fatigue. That’s how powerful nature can be. So if you’re reading this at the office change your desktop to a nature scene! And preferably a nature scene that includes water – research has shown that images containing water are more restorative than those without.

One of the challenges that we are faced with is staying motivated to exercise. About half of people who join a gym don’t stick with it beyond the first year. But people who exercise outside tend to stick with their exercise programs more consistently than those who train indoors. So if you’re having trouble being consistent consider adding an outdoor workout to your routine.
 
Another surprise benefit of getting outside and into nature is that exposure to plants like trees can improve your immune system. Your immune system helps to fight off illnesses and keeps you healthy. Scientists think that airborne chemicals that plants emit to protect themselves from fungus, bacteria and insects (these chemicals are called phytoncides) may also benefit humans. On a study published in 2007, people who took 2-hour walks in a forest had a 50% increase in the levels of their natural killer cells. They sound scary but they’re your cells that circulate through your body and kill bacteria, viruses, fungus and other invaders! The benefits of exercising outdoors appear to last for at least a week - maybe even up to a month! So once per week (or at least once / month) spend some time outside doing something fun. Go hiking on a trail, go skiing, and the more you can immerse yourself in nature the better.
 
It also turns out that if you prefer walking and light activity to running or more intense activities you’re in luck. It appears that walking in nature improves measures of revitalization, self-esteem, energy, pleasure, and decreases frustration, worry, confusion, depression, tension and tiredness far more than light activity indoors does. Running outdoors does not seem to have a greater impact on emotions or mood than running inside. Maybe because running and more intense activities cause the release of endorphins that can cause feelings of elation and exhilaration regardless of where you run. So if you want to feel better – get outside and don’t worry about whether or not you walk or run.

Today's POWER-UP: Exercise outside at least once per week

If you can get outside by all means get out there! Exercising in nature has benefits that go above and beyond the benefits you gain by exercising indoors. Research has shown improvements in mental wellbeing, self-esteem, and even depression.

I’ve found that trail running seems to help me decompress much better than running on a treadmill or even on city streets, and the research backs this up as well. Being exposed to plants decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, decreases resting heart rate and also decreases blood pressure.

I think these studies are really interesting because we often think of exercise as only being good for our bodies. It turns out that exercise can be just as good for our brains and our minds and that getting outside and exercising in nature might amplify the benefits.

Dive Deeper

Check out this National Geographic article on the effects of nature on your brain.