Natural anti-depressant: Outdoors can boost mood

Can you really compare this to a stationary bike?

I always advocate exercising outside, and used to be really proactive with my opinions of why one should do this.  I’d always pester my friends about why’d they join the gym in the summer, never understanding why they’d ever choose treadmills over trails.  They’d shout out what I perceived as lame complaints of factors such as heat and weather unpredicitability, and then I’d fire back with a list of obvious-to-me reasons of why exercising outside is so superior.  Eventually I settled down, realizing that everyone’s different and I should be happy for my friends’ decisions to at least incorporate a healthy exercise regimen into their lives, whether it be in the blinding, florescent-lit gym or sunshine-filled outdoors.

At least they were training their bodies so that when they did decide to eventually join me outside, they could still keep up with me during the occasional 3 v 3 basketball games or 2 hour-long tennis matches.  (Although I did have the advantage when it came to dealing with and responding to the heat).

I can’t totally blame them, because in a sense, I already had the upper-hand on being inclined to choose the outdoors as my exercise setting.  Growing up in the country with little else to do as an 8-year old but making “tacos” out of dirt and leaves, I was conditioned to spending many, many hours of my life piddling around outside.  Many of my friends on the other hand, born and raised in the suburbs with people next door and real taco joints right down the street, didn’t quite have the same predisposition to the outdoors as I had.  Plus, I was always the lucky one who never had the burdensome worry of putting on sunscreen or getting blistering sunburn.  My golden tan skin just seemed to continuously soak up the sun.  (I realize now this might not have been so lucky, and I should have been wearing a lot more sunscreen as a kid!)

The truth is, the main reason I so strongly prescribed exercising outdoors to others is because I myself find it to be the optimal place to do so.  Sure, it’s a bit of an egocentric prescription, but I figured if running outside made me 100 times happier than running inside, it’d have to be similar for others. Being outside, especially while being active, simply just makes me happy.

I’ve learned through my various encounters with others that exercising outside may not be the optimal setting for everyone.   But one thing is for sure, a little dose of the outdoors does seem to be highly beneficial for nearly all.

A recent study conducted by the University of Essex, showed that exercising in nature for just 5 minutes a day can significantly boost a person’s mood, self-esteem, and mental health.  Researches analyzed the effects of activities such as walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding, and farming in the presence of nature, on 1,252 people.  All types of natural, green environments produced positive healthful results, and those environments that contained water showed even higher advantages.

The effects of nature were most significantly seen on the young and mentally ill.  The researches aim to increase people’s overall access to nature and use it as a form of self-medication.

Whether it’s the sunshine, the fresh-air, or the vibrant, growing life that surrounds the outdoors, there’s just something about spending time in nature that can naturally enhance your mood.  Maybe you’ll choose to do that daily run inside to beat the heat, but at least try get outside and spend a little leisure time under the sun (with sunscreen of course) at some point each day.    My bet is that the time spent outside will naturally put a little smile on your face, and pretty soon you may even find yourself wanting to move your run outdoors.  It’s definitely a nice change of scenery, scenery that actually changes with every step you take.

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  • Reply
    Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman
    May 10, 2010 at 6:53 am

    I wish I could exercise outdoors more often, but all of the equipment I need for my knee rehab is indoors. That said, I bought a bike at the end of last summer and I’m planning on using it once the pollen count stops threatening to kill me. I can see how being active outside could improve mood. We’re all so trapped indoors for work all of the time, being out in nature is an escape.

  • Reply
    Simply Life
    May 10, 2010 at 7:19 am

    I definitely notice the difference and always look forward to the spring when I can start running outside again and taking walks!

  • Reply
    Steven at Positive Massage Therapy
    May 10, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Exercising outdoors is fabulous for sure. As I get my personal training business going, I plan to use local parks and playground equipment for my clients. Besides the things you mention, the less even and hard ground gives the body an extra functional challenge compared to the gym, especially for running or biking.

    I do want to add that while too much sun is bad, sunlight does provide essential vitamin D in a totally natural form. Over the last decade or two the harm from over-exposure has been drilled into people so that it is considered healthy to avoid any UV from the sun, and an extreme of sun avoidance has become “common sense.”

    More recently the incredible benefits of vitamin D have been revealed, and I try to take a balanced approach between too much sun and putting chemically-laden sunscreen on my skin. I have discussed this more on my post Vitamin D, Sunlight, and Health


  • Reply
    May 10, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    When I started waiting tables on my arrival to Las Vegas, there was a girl who was depressed. I told her to go outside and take a run. Everyone made fun of me. Well, a few weeks later, she came up to me and thanked me. I was instantly friends with those who initially laughed.

  • Reply
    marla {family fresh cooking}
    May 10, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    I love exercising outdoors. It really frees my head and it is so much more entertaining than the gym. Swimming, hiking, surfing and skiing are my favorites! xo

  • Reply
    May 10, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    As much as I agree with this post, it makes me feel guilty for my treadmill workouts! I am such a priss about the weather, and I’m a fan of having my towel, water, and TV at hand. I’m so lame! I do practice yoga outside, though…I know you’d appreciate hearing that 🙂

  • Reply
    May 11, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Great post! I totally agree. Nothing enhances my mood more than a long hike! It’s the best! And yes, a quick run through my neighborhood is a lot more beneficial to my mental health than running on the treadmill. Unfortunately (yes, here comes the excuse!), working out outside isn’t always an option for me these days. While I do a lot of playground workouts with the toddler, to get a “real” workout, I usually need to hit the gym to get an hour truly to myself while the toddler is playing in the childcare facility. However, I make sure to spend plenty of time outdoors every day, running with the toddler, climbing, etc. Can’t wait for the day when regular, long hikes become possible again! 🙂

  • Reply
    May 11, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Awesome post! I love working out in the outdoors – hate the TM, but on occasion it is the best option – not very often….Great post!

  • Reply
    The Candid RD
    May 11, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Great post. I really believe this has to do with vitamin D, did it mention that at all? I mean the only factor that seems to be different outdoors (well, the only MAIN factor) is the sun, and I have read some studies that correlate vitamin D with depression (negative correlation). I try to workout outdoors as much as possible, but sometimes I just get sick of walking or running, and if I was to ride the bike I would have to workout a lot longer to reap the same benefits! I’v been playing basketball and jumping rope outdoors lately, I do love to do that 🙂

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