Earlier this week, I was introduced to the term ‘green exercise’; I’d never heard it before but the concept is of course nothing new – it’s outdoor exercise in a green environment - but I was intrigued to find out more about what people were saying about it.
I volunteer with The Good Energy Club, a mental health physical activities project within the borough of Kingston upon Thames, where I live. The aim of the project is to improve each member’s well-being through increased participation in physical activity. It was at a volunteering session that I was introduced to Radio 4s All in the Mind Programme . Wednesday’s episode discussed the benefits of the so called green exercise.
Mike Rogerson, from University of Essex examines how exercising in different environment can influence psychological well-being. Research already shows that exercise is good for our mental health, but can exercising outdoors be even better? Rogerson said that people tend to talk more when they are outdoors. How many people do you talk to in the gym? Preliminary results indicate that people felt more motivated and showed intention of doing more exercise after exercising outdoors, could this be what people need to make exercise stick?
Personally, I prefer exercising outdoors.
- It’s usually cooler (unless you live in a hot country in which case, the following doesn’t apply), when you’re working hard, the last thing you want is to be drowning in your own sweat.
- I’m nosey. When exercising outdoors, I get to see different people, different places, explore the area.
- Variety - I can mix things up and change my routine as much as I like. Gyms can be a bit restrictive as often there’s not much space.
Is all outdoor exercise good for you or does it have to be green?
Rogerson said that changing environments can be traced in brain activity. The brain showed traces of being more akin to states of meditation and lower levels of stress when moving into an urban park from a built up environment.
When I used to run in central London, I’d get frustrated. It was impossible to build up a steady pace and people were constantly getting in the way. Running was meant to alleviate stress; city running was not exactly relaxing. Running on the Thames Path and around Richmond Park on the other hand was; lost in my own world, thoughts just flowing by mindlessly. In this case, green open space wins from a psychological point of view.
But on dark, damp evenings, the last thing I want to do is work out in the dark outside. On these occasions, my preference would be to work out in my living room. I still feel great and get all the same health benefits, or do I?
Is Green Really Better?
According to University of Essex’s research, green exercise is better for everyone. We all know that exercise is mood enhancing, however doing it outdoors apparently produces improvement in mood and increases self-esteem above and beyond that of exercise alone.
The other day when I was exercising outside, I lay down to do some ab exercises. It's not often we lay on our backs and stare up into the sky, it was surprisingly nourishing. The sky was blue with a few fluffy white clouds, I almost forgot where I was. I guess that beats staring up onto a boring off-white ceiling.
Give Yourself a Mental Boost
So if you're moving and exercising to improve your mood, doing it outdoors will provide you with more positive feelings. If you're doing it for stress relief, you might want to think about your environment before you set off.
What do you prefer – indoors or outdoors? Do you feel different depending on the environment you’ve exercised in?