People often create resolutions at the beginning of each new year, and many people see their primary goal as getting into better shape. While COVID-19 restrictions prevented so many of us from exercising indoors throughout 2020, people turned to the great outdoors for their workouts, which encompasses far more benefits anyway. 

“Green exercise” refers to physical exercise undertaken in natural environments. Going for a hike through the forest, running along the beach, biking through your neighborhood, or even walking through the park can provide a mental health boost beyond that of indoor gyms. Exercising outdoors can connect you to nature while also strengthening your body in a way that exercising inside a gym cannot. 

Staying physically fit is essential for those in the first responder community as this job often demands 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.

The Role of the Great Outdoors

As with regular exercise, being in green and natural spaces has largely been regarded as beneficial to health. Being within 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 decrease in the need to exercise outdoors and the increased use of indoor gyms, sports halls, and at-home exercise equipment. However, finding time to exercise in any type of natural space has a multitude of benefits. 

Some benefits of green exercise include: 

  • Motivation – For example, 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. 
  • Physiological health – Physiological health benefits include heart rate, blood pressure, and endocrine markers, including noradrenaline, adrenaline, and cortisol measures of stress.
  • Mental health – Outdoor exercise can also be seen as a natural antidepressant that can potentially help fight off seasonal affective disorder, depression, and anxiety because sunlight naturally increases serotonin, a hormone that lifts your mood. Exposure to sunlight also increases vitamin D levels, which is linked to better health. 
  • Increased social levels – Participating in physical activity outdoors could encourage people to engage in social activity simultaneously, such as having a walking buddy, playing a recreational sport, or including the family on a hike or bike ride. These can be better solutions to improving physical and mental wellness instead of staying indoors all the time. 

Exercising in natural environments may provide some of the best well-rounded health benefits by increasing motivation, increasing physical and mental health, reducing stress, restoring mental fatigue, and even improving moods. Exercise within green spaces may be beneficial for first responders who experience a disproportionate amount of stress levels as it can provide opportunities to find valuable social engagement with others and elevate positive mental health. 

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.