Why You Need to Exercise Outdoors: Part 2

In the last episode, you learned about the problems with pollution in gyms—problems that are often beyond the scope of your control. But don't despair, because in this episode you’re going to learn about how you can use nature to heal your body, and the best ways to exercise outdoors.

Ben Greenfield
6-minute read
Episode #240

The Therapy & Benefits Of Outdoors Exercise

In my podcast episode, “Forest Bathing, Sleep Hacking, Cell Phones & Water: The Underground Guide To Lowering Cortisol When Nothing Else Seems To Be Working," my guest Evan Brand and I discuss the amazing research that shows that something as simple as spending time in the trees, walking in forests, exercising on nature trails, and hiking outdoors exposes you to tiny particles and phytochemicals that plants release, and this in turn helps decrease salivary cortisol, depression, and anger.

Also, in the episode How To Use Cold Weather To Lose Weight, you learn that stepping outside the constant comfort of air conditioning and heaters, and instead getting frequent exposure to temperature fluctuations such as cold air, snow, rain, sun, heat, and other environmental variables can increase stress resilience, burn more calories, increase cardiovascular performance, and get you more fit quickly.

Now, a new article, “Natural environments, ancestral diets, and microbial ecology: is there a modern “paleo-deficit disorder”?” highlights research from as early as the 1960s, which shows that early-life experience with microbiota and other bacteria found in outdoor situations, along with environmental stress, can actually positively influence longevity and health outcomes. The author recognized the co-evolutionary relationship between microbiota and the human host. The article points out the fact that there is lower health, more anxiety and depression, and increased incidence of immune-related disease in developed nations that have become too sanitized—specifically too sanitized with respect to not being outside around dirt, trees, animals, and other natural areas of “microbial ecology” (which, by the way, is far different than manmade bacteria and synthetic toxins and chemicals in gyms.

In a 2010 Japanese study of shinrin-yoku (defined as “taking in the forest atmosphere, or forest bathing”), researchers found that elements of the environment, such as the odor of wood, the sound of running stream water, and the scenery of the forest, can provide relaxation and reduce stress, and those taking part in the study experienced lower levels of cortisol, a lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure.

This should all really come as no surprise. Scientists have long known that sunlight can lower depression, especially depression from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A 2007 study from the University of Essex found that something as simple as a walk in the countryside reduces depression in 71% of participants. These same researchers found that nature therapy, also known as “ecotherapy,” and spending as little as five minutes in a natural setting, whether walking in a park or gardening in the backyard, can improve mood, self-esteem, and motivation.

Other health care professionals are also finding that being in a natural environment has numerous benefits for kids, and can combat the obesity, anxiety, depression, and other health issues that arise with "nature-deficit disorder." In an article at WebMD, nurse Stacy Bosch of the Clark County School District in Nevada is cited as seeing many students who are overweight or have type-2 diabetes, and she notes that, more often than not, these kids spend very little time outside. To get the kids and their parents away from the TV or computer and increase their physical activity can help control weight and blood sugar, Bosch writes a prescription for the entire family to go to one into nature areas and simply take a walk.


About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.