Sure, a climate-controlled gym with all the bells and whistles can be a pleasant place to work out, especially in winter, but science suggests there are powerful benefits to leading an active lifestyle in the great outdoors.
When the weather permits, take your activity out in nature for a variety of benefits to body, mind and soul. Writer Laura Ingalls Wilder was on to something when she said, "Some old-fashioned things, like fresh air and sunshine, are hard to beat." And now, there's research to support her claim.
Boost energy and reduce tension
For example, a team from England's Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry analyzed 11 trials that included more than 800 adults. They found that, when compared with indoor exercise, outdoor exercise was associated with increased energy and revitalization, as well as decreased confusion, anger, depression and tension.
Outdoor exercisers also reported enjoying their workouts more, and were more likely to say they planned to repeat them than exercisers who were holed up inside a gym. Many also had lower levels of cortisol (a hormone produced in response to stress) than their indoor counterparts, and said exposure to sunlight improved their mood. In addition, people who walked outdoors completed an average of 30 minutes more exercise per week than those who exercised indoors.
So, which outdoor activities provide the greatest benefit? Walking is at the top of the list. It boosts cardio, is gentle on the joints, strengthens bones, can be done almost anywhere and is free. From a mental-health standpoint, it can reduce stress, improve mood and spark creativity.
Gardening is another favorite outdoor activity for many. It promotes tranquility and relaxation, and has many physical benefits as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, moderate activity, such as active gardening, for as little as two-and-a-half hours each week can reduce risk of obesity, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and depression.
Keep it simple; Start kids early
Outdoor activities can be as simple as teaching a grandchild to ride a bike, shooting hoops with friends, hiking or going for a brisk swim.
If you have children, introduce them to outdoor fun at an early age. They'll be more likely to carry your example into their teen and adult years, when stress-busting and health enhancing activities become even more vital.
Being active outdoors lets you improve your fitness, while enjoying nature and relieving daily stress in the process. Now that's what we call effective multitasking.
Don't let allergies keep you indoors
Do you love exercising but fear an allergy attack?
Dr. Joshua Dunklebarger, an Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon at WellSpan Health, has three key strategies to help you stay comfortable:
- Prep your system. During days or seasons when your allergies are at their worst, use an over-the-counter antihistamine, like Allegra, Claritin or Zyrtec, before you exercise. This will help stave off allergens' effects and may prevent an attack before it starts.
- Pick your time. If you have a pollen allergy, exercise early morning or late evening when pollen counts are lowest. If you're allergic to mold, avoid exercising right after a rain shower, when molds are at their peak. Check the weather and use smartphone apps to review allergen counts in your area.
- Keep allergens outside. "After exercising, shower, wash your hair and change your clothes," advises Dr. Dunklebarger. He also recommends rinsing out nasal cavities using a neti pot filled with a saline solution. "Allergens tend to accumulate in nasal cavities after exercise," he says. "Every time you breathe in, they sit in your nasal passages and lungs."