Here at FitMyFoot, we are advocates of the great outdoors. Not just for staying physically fit and active, but also for the myriad of mental health benefits that outdoor exercise gives rise to. Coincidentally, the Covid-19 pandemic caused the closing of gyms everywhere and people were forced to transition to home or outdoor workouts. But the great outdoors is the silver lining to a very grey cloud - it’s always available to us, and is guaranteed to make your day brighter.
If you’re used to gym workouts and are struggling with your new reality, here are 6 reasons why you need to be exercising outside for a boost of motivation.
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A study published in the journal Mental Health & Prevention found that outdoor workouts make you feel calmer. A research project asked a group of participants to exercise outside, and report how they were feeling before and after the exercise intervention. The researchers found that all the participants boosted their mood and felt more grounded and calm after exercising in nature.
2. You feel revitalized
Often, intense gym-based workouts like weight lifting or high intensity interval training (HIIT) can leave you feeling like you need a nap. Exercising outside, on the other hand, can revitalize you. This is due to a combination of the fresh air, daylight, and the type of exercise you are doing - you’re probably not going to be squatting a new PR outside!
A systematic review published in 2011 that looked at studies with more than 833 participants in total, found that exercising outside boosted mental wellbeing, with all participants reporting feeling revitalized, energetic and positive after outdoor exercise. This was compared to studies in which participants exercised indoors.
3. You feel happier
When we exercise, biochemical changes occur like the release of feel-good endorphins and neurotransmitters that make us feel happier. This is known in exercise as feeling ‘high’ - your mood suddenly transforms and you’re ready to take on the day with a positive attitude! This effect can be so substantial that studies have shown it to alleviate depression if done regularly.
4. You’re less anxious
Due to the aforementioned biochemical changes that occur during exercise, combined with the effects of some fresh air, not only will you feel happier after exercising outside, studies also show that you’ll feel less anxious.
A 2015 study found that in a group of participants, those who walked in nature for 90 minutes had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex - a brain region that is active in anxiety and ruminating thoughts.
5. You get vitamin DVitamin D is absorbed by the skin from the sun. You need 30 minutes of direct sun exposure to get enough vitamin D so if you don’t live in a sunny climate you should supplement. But if the sun is shining, get outside and make the most of it!
You may be wondering how this is linked to mental health, but research has shown a clear link between vitamin D deficiency and mood disorders like depression. A 2013 meta-analysis found that individuals with depression were statistically more likely to have low vitamin D levels, concluding that low vitamin D is a risk factor for depression.
This is because vitamin D is both a vitamin and a hormone, that plays a role in brain function, alongside a plethora of other key hormonal responses.
6. It boosts your immune function
Here’s the truth: any type of exercise you do will boost your immune function, that’s one of the many amazing side effects of exercise. But exercise outside has an even greater effect on immune function, making it a must, particularly during a pandemic.
One reason is because it increases your Vitamin D levels: low levels are linked to a higher risk of developing respiratory illness and infection.
Another mechanism is by breathing in fresh air containing phytoncides - airborne chemicals that are emitted by plants to protect themselves from predators. These chemicals have powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties for human health.
When we breathe in phytoncides, they trigger the release and concentration of a special type of white blood cells known as natural killer cells. These cells kill harmful pathogens and virus cells in our bodies. That’s why some experts recommend ‘forest bathing’ - spending time in a forest for the sole purpose of improving immune health.
7. You’ll probably be more consistent
Working out in a sweaty, crowded, intimidating gym can be so stressful sometimes that you just say screw it and skip your workout. When you enjoy your workouts, you’re more likely to be consistent. When you’re consistent, you are able to enjoy more of the mental health benefits associated with exercise.
Outdoor workout tips
Now that we’ve convinced you that outdoor workouts are amazing, it’s time to give you some actionable tips to be aware of before you start exercising outside.
The type of footwear you wear outside for your exercise is extremely important. If you are not wearing supportive shoes, you are more at risk of rolling your ankle or causing an injury. This is particularly the case if you are:
- Working out on an unstable surface - like small mounds in the grass for example
- New to exercise
- High impact exercise - like HIIT
- Older - your bones and joints are prone to injury
- Overcoming an injury
FitMyFoot has created innovative foot technology to create custom insoles designed specifically for your feet and their needs, and can be inserted into your shoe of choice to immediately transform the way you move. So before you start enjoying exercising in the great outdoors, make sure you are protecting your movement with correct footwear.
The benefits associated with exercising outside go far beyond what we’ve covered here, but we hope it’s clear to you that it’s a good idea, to say the least. Especially if you are struggling mentally, it might just be the natural mood-booster you need.