Jog

The Health Benefits of “Green Exercise”

Published on January 30, 2021 by First Responder Wellness

People often create new resolutions at the beginning of each new year, and many people may see their primary goal as getting into better shape. While COVID-19 restrictions prevented many from exercising in gyms this past year, people turned to the great outdoors for their workouts. “Green exercise” refers to physical exercise undertaken in natural environments. Going for a hike through a forest, taking a run along the beach, or even walking through the park can provide a mental health boost beyond that of indoor gyms. It connects you to nature while also strengthening your body. 

Staying physically fit is essential for those in the first responder community as this job can often demand a lot of exertion. Remaining healthy can also help prevent physical injury and mental injury as it is a beneficial coping mechanism to maintain mental wellness. It is known that physical activity improves health, but the environments in which we workout may also affect and influence our overall well-being. 

The Role of the Great Outdoors

The multiplicity of what the outdoors may mean regarding “green exercise” can range from forests, the seaside, the countryside, parks, local green areas, or gardens. As with regular exercise, being in green and natural spaces has largely been regarded as beneficial to health. Being in nature provides a sense of escape from daily life when our lives are so centered around technology, driving, and being indoors. Experiencing nature often does not require the same direct attention as interacting with technology. This is what may give nature its restorative properties, allowing us to recover from mental fatigue.   

With this rise of technological advances comes the decreased need to exercise outdoors and the increased use of indoor gyms, sports halls, and at-home exercise equipment. The increase of urbanization has also led to less quality green space available for those in more developed areas to interact with. However, finding time to exercise in whatever kind of natural space is available to you has multiple benefits. 

Benefits

There are many advantages of “green exercise,” including:  

  • Motivation – According to an article on the benefits of a green exercise environment, when individuals were asked to reproduce perceived levels of exertion in outdoor versus indoor exercise, people tended to walk faster with greater physiological discomfort for indoor training than outdoor. This suggests that they perceive exercise to be less demanding when performed outdoors or in a natural environment. 

One reason for this may be because being in nature provides more input to our senses that can be used as a distractive stimulus, reducing the perceived level of exertion. One way we also do this is by listening to music. Promoting visual attention to a pleasant and natural surrounding minimizes negative feelings associated with exertion and increases feelings of positive engagement and rejuvenation. Because exercising outdoors feels less like a chore as running on a treadmill might, and more like a fun activity, individuals may be more motivated and inclined to stick with it.

  • Physiological Health – The same article also reveals that physiological health benefits include heart rate, blood pressure, and endocrine markers, including noradrenaline, adrenaline, and cortisol measures of stress. Studies have found that blood pressure returns to baselines more quickly after exercising in rural settings compared to urban settings. There is also reported lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure following walking in a forest environment compared to the same activity in an urban environment with no vegetation or plants.  

A sustained increase in stress levels can be detrimental to a person’s health. As a first responder, methods to cope with high stress levels are critical to health. Exercising in nature may be one solution as it appears to reduce stress markers after being within nature. Exposure to forest environments has stress-reducing properties. 

  • Mental Health – A physical decrease in stress markers such as adrenaline can help the mind relax and provide mental relief. Outdoor exercise can also be seen as a natural antidepressant that can potentially help fight off seasonal affective disorder (SAD), depression, and anxiety because sunlight naturally increases serotonin, a hormone that lifts your mood. Exercise itself produces endorphins, another feel-good hormone that boosts your mood. Exposure to sunlight also increases vitamin D levels, which is linked to better health. 
  • Increased Social Levels – Participating in physical activity outdoors might encourage people to simultaneously engage in social activity. This could mean having a walking or running buddy, playing a recreational sport, or including the family on a hike or bike ride. All of these can be better solutions to improving physical and mental wellness than staying indoors at all times. This can also be an opportunity for team-building when friends or coworkers partake in an activity or sport together. 

Working out in natural environments or engaging in “green exercise” may provide some of the best well-rounded health benefits by increasing motivation, increasing physical and mental health, reducing stress, restoring mental fatigue, and improving moods. Exercise within green spaces may be beneficial for first responders who experience a disproportionate amount of stress levels. It can also provide opportunities to find valuable social engagement and connection with others, which is vital for mental health. Many find exercising as a healthy coping mechanism to deal with work-related stressors. Combining the benefits of exercising and experiencing a connection with nature can help first responders struggling with mental health concerns. At First Responder Wellness, we provide guidance to those ready to take the path to recovery and wellbeing. We offer various programs within a community of others who know what it is like to be on the front lines. For more information on how we can help, call (888) 743-0490.